The WPI/NTPA family is saddened beyond measure to learn of the passing on Tuesday, January 5 of Chris Gilbert of Chapel Hill, Tennessee. Mr. Gilbert was the longtime chairman and a founding member of the committee that formed what would become the Lions Super Pull of the South, an eight-time NTPA National Pull of the Year.
For 51 weeks a year, Mr. Gilbert was best known to his community as the man behind the counter at H & S Pharmacy, which serves the citizens of Chapel Hill and its rural outskirts. In the summer and fall months, he imparted the lessons of sports and life to generations of young athletes and announced the games of several Forrest High and Middle School teams.
But to pulling fans who visited the cozy confines of his south-central Tennessee hometown, he was the friendly voice from the tower welcoming them to Lions Motorsports Park, introducing each competitor as they approached the starting line, recognizing the dozens of national and local sponsors, and keeping the two-session program moving along but never hurried.
Born of the Chapel Hill Lions' desire to do good works both for the international club's official charity---blindness prevention---and the community in Tennessee's Marshall County, the pull began in 1972 with local out-of-field classes. It expanded to a modest state-level event by the end of the decade and began to draw national notice by the mid-'80s. All the while, the critical role Mr. Gilbert performed as the year-round advocate and curator of the event remained largely under the radar.
Many spectators and competitors got to know him, however, as the leader of the pull committee's traveling party. Routinely found in stands and seats in Tomah and Louisville and Bowling Green and the Association's Awards Banquet, Mr. Gilbert and his fellow Orange Shirts made sure to remain in touch with the sport and the people who helped to make it happen at their own venue.
The Super Pull of the South's name was inspired by Indiana's midwinter invitational that defined the celebrities of pulling's early era, and Mr. Gilbert and his fellow organizers dreamed of attracting that same sort of star power to their benefit pull.
"One year, Danny Dean rolled in the gate, and we didn't even know he was coming," Mr. Gilbert told The Puller Magazine in 1987 in the introduction of Chapel Hill as NTPA's newest Grand National. "As the years progressed, it was 'One of these days, Ralph Banter is going to come'...'Tim Engler is going to come.'"
They all did. And across the decades, succeeding champions have kept on passing through the park's gates and onto the Chapel Hill clay because of Mr. Gilbert and his fellow Lions' faithfulness to the mission he succinctly stated in their first year on the national schedule.
"Those who have been here before know the tradition ..., the friendliness, and hospitality extended to each puller and their families," Mr. Gilbert told the magazine. "For those who have not been here before, we look forward to showing you that there is no better place in the world for truck and tractor pulling than Chapel Hill, Tennessee."
Update: In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to
- the Johnny Sheffield-Carl Gilbert Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Chapel Hill Lions Club: P. O. Box 264, Chapel Hill, TN 37034, or to
- Guide Dog Foundation of Smithtown, New York: 371 East Main Street, Smithtown, NY 11787 or www.guidedog.org.
Cards of sympathy and condolence may be sent to the Lions at the above address or to Mr. Gilbert's business, H & S Pharmacy: 4708 Nashville Highway, Chapel Hill, TN 37034, Attn: Chris Gilbert.
We join the Gilbert family and the Lions in deeply mourning their loss.