Robert Eller


One day, Pat Poteat stopped off for a beer. Among his duties for Drexel Furniture was driving a truck that hauled inventory from Marion to Drexel. Taking a break, Pat popped the top on a cold one, engaged in a bit of conversation and watched the traffic go by on Highway 70. One of the cars he saw turned around. It pulled into the service station where Pat had bought his beer.

Out sprang the president of Drexel Furniture, Frank Huffman. Son of the founder, Frank had taken over the head job at the company after his father and two of the original investors in the company died as president. In an effort to keep things running, Frank inquired about the truck. Was it broken down? Was there a problem? Pat answered “no.” He just stopped off to take a break.

Seeing the beer in Pat’s hand, the new president of Drexel flew into a rage. He berated the employee and before the lecture was over, Frank Huffman fired Pat Poteat. By all accounts, Pat took the dismissal rather calmly. However, it didn’t take long for Frank to realize that he had a bigger problem. Who would drive the truck on to Marion to make the pick up?

The president of Drexel had a choice. He could either slow down the shipment, drive back to Drexel and find another driver or he could reinstate Pat Poteat. Huffman swallowed his pride and rehired his former employee.

Drexel Campus

The sprawling Drexel campus in Morganton. Years after the infamous firing, the company grew to gigantic proportions. Image courtesy of the Burke History Museum.The sprawling Drexel campus in Morganton. Years after the infamous firing, the company grew to gigantic proportions. Image courtesy of the Burke History Museum.

Both the Drexel Furniture truck and the president’s car motored on to Marion. As soon as Pat pulled into the lot, Frank Huffman fired him again. Once more unfazed, the driver shrugged and started to walk off. He did have a question though. “Was there anybody there that knew how to back that truck up to the dock so it could get loaded?” As the company president sought an answer to that question, he found that no one could. Again, he rehired Pat to finish the job. Under the watchful and angered eye of the company head, the truck was loaded. Pat climbs in the cab and took off back down the highway.

Upon the return, Huffman’s temper had not cooled and for a third time fired his employee, probably as much over the embarrassment caused as the original offense of drinking a beer. It didn’t take long for Pat’s co-workers to point out to Frank Huffman what a mistake the president had made.

Pat Poteat was one of Drexel’s most loyal and longstanding employees. After the death of his mother, Pat’s father brought his son to work with him at Drexel, in the early days of the company’s operation. In fact, his name, “Pat” was not short for Patrick. His father had given him that nickname as short for “Patches,” which kept his overall in one piece. On the shop floor the name stuck. He was called Pat for the rest of his life.

Huffman soon invited Poteat to come back to work. Pat was so much a part of the community that he once served as mayor of the town. He passed on a tremendous work ethic to his three sons, all of whom went to college. His youngest, Bill was a noted reporter and columnist for several area newspapers.

Reportedly, Pat Poteat became a teetotaler after the incident with the president of Drexel.