1996 Laureates

Clyde B. Austin, Sr.

Greenville native Clyde B. Austin Sr., was such a prankster at Greenville High School, the community could not guess that he would become known as "Greenville's First Citizen – the man who has done more for Greenville than any other one individual".

Described as a "a rare type", "a practical dreamer, who not only saw visions, but possessed the ability to transform them into reality", Clyde went into business with his father in 1908, spending his days driving a "ramshackle buggy over rough dusty roads peddling his wares."

In less than two years, he introduced "Pure Gold-it's real tobacco", that would later be sold to a major tobacco company.

In May 1912, Clyde married Felice Noel beginning a partnership that produced good business results and four sons, Clyde B., Jr., Tom, Bob and Frank. Felice was "an able business woman and kept books for the company and acted as secretary".

Mr. Austin installed the first tobacco redrying machine in 1918, and laid the foundation for his success selling both steamed and processed tobacco. As board chairman, he was admired by his employees as a person who cared. "He often walked among his workers, and by a kindly word or bit praise, let us know he was pleased with our work," said an employee. By the time of his death in 1966, the Austin Tobacco Company was trading in 70 countries and had plants in Mexico, Columbia and Rhodesia, with branch offices in Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Rome and Alexandria.

When Clyde B. Austin had an idea, he immediately began to take action. One of his greatest skills was his ability to influence other community and business leaders to work towards improving the quality of life in Greenville and Greene County. Clyde B. played leading roles in establishing the Burley Association, persuading farmers to produce milk for the Pet Milk Company, and in organizing the Greene County Foundation. The Greene County Foundation brought many industries to Greene County and created employment for many local residents.

Mr. Austin had a strong commitment to keeping Greens County's young men from leaving the county. "These fine young fellows entering the picture now are our greatest assets", and "We must see that they do not leave." Clyde B. Austin is credited with helping many a young person starting a business.

His generosity was well known and he was a great benefactor to the region. For twenty-nine years, Mr. Austin served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee. His tenure as Chair of the Finance Committee and of the Buildings and Grounds became a major factor in the growth of the university.

Clyde B. was honored by being made a member of the Federal Reserve Board, was president of the Tobacco Association of the U.S.A. and was an active behind the scenes participant in politics. In 1962, he was honored as the "Outstanding Citizen of the Year" by the VFW.

For seventy-five years Clyde B. Austin gave of his time, talent, and means for the public good of Greeneville and Greene County. "He was a friend to his county and state," said former Gov. Buford Ellington. "His service in civic, business and educational affairs exemplifies good citizenship at his best.