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Harold Coker Celebration of Life

Harold Coker Celebration of Life
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Article by Richard Parks based on reports from Hemmings.com and The Chattanoogan.com. 

Harold, left, with son Corky

Harold, left, with son Corky

Harold Coker was born in 1929 and witnessed the Great Depression that ravaged the world economy and then the horrors of the Second World War, which fostered a great love for his conservatism and lifelong devotion to the Republican Party and honed his business instincts.  His father was Hardy Corn Coker, called Pop by those who knew him, was a mechanic who loved Model-A Fords.  Pop was born on the western border of North Carolina, the youngest in his family of 13 siblings, and learned the value of work and the benefits of the new automobile age.  Pop and his wife passed that culture on to Harold and his brothers Bob and Bill. 

Harold received his AA degree in 1949 from Tennessee Wesleyan College and his BA degree in chemistry from Tennessee Tech in 1951.  He was the first in his family to graduate from college.  He married his wife Lillian in 1953 and they had two sons, Corky and David and a daughter, Christie Coker Bowen.  Lill, as he called his wife, and he, were the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Harold Coker worked for BFGoodrich, and then founded his own company, Coker Tire in 1958 in Athens, Tennessee, with money that Pop had given him from the sale of his home.  Pop lived to be 97 years old and was a constant influence on his sons.  Harold moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1961 and his business grew.  The company was situated right at the beginning of the boom in the antique car boom and became the largest supplier of tires and wheels throughout the world. 

Like the old Model-A cars that the Coker's loved, they began to sell antique tires to collectors and restorers of old cars. Harold also collected antique and nostalgic vehicles on his farm, including a Nyberg, built in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and quite rare.  He made appearances on programs to show the country his rare collection of cars and his involvement in the auto equipment industry.  I met his son Corky on the west coast stop of a famous cross country, back roads rally.  

He was also active in political and business organizations.  He was quite proud of his service to the Hamilton County Commission for over twenty years.  Harold was a president of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) in 1972, and later helped to found an AACA chapter in Athens, Tennessee.  He was elected as the president of the National Tire Dealers and Re-Treaders Association in 1985.  In 2004 Harold retired from the company and his son Corky Coker took over the management of the firm.  He kept involved as Chairman of the Board until his passing.  Harold was an active member in the Woodland Park Baptist Church.   He was recently inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame.

Harold loved politics as well and was a Republican when it wasn't common in the South.  He served as president of the local Pachyderm club and watched as the GOP became not only respectable, but predominate in the region.  He served on community improvement projects and worked tirelessly to make Hamilton County a place to be proud of.  He also served as the president of the Hamilton County Republican Party.  He was also influential in getting large companies to relocate in Hamilton County, such as Volkswagen and Amazon.  He died on November 16, 2014 from complications due to a fall while at his farm.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected].