A ‘giant in this community.’ Former Harris Teeter owner and hospital chair dies at 94

Rush Stuart Dickson, former owner of Harris Teeter grocery store chain and American & Efird textile manufacturer, died Saturday, May 11. He was 94.

Dickson and his brother, Alan, took over their father’s firm R. S. Dickson & Co. in 1968, building it into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate called Ruddick Corp. Ruddick acquired the Matthews-based regional grocer Harris Teeter Inc. in 1969. R. Stuart Dickson was chairman of the board until 1994, Harris Teeter told The Charlotte Observer.

Ruddick also owned American & Efird Inc., a thread and specialty yarn maker headquartered in Mount Holly, and previously owned R. S. Dickson & Co.

Jim Hynes, who knew Dickson as a friend and mentor for over 50 years, used one word to describe Dickson: “Fun.”

“He was creative, enthusiastic and had an immense network of people who liked and respected him,” Hynes said. “He was a giant in this community.”

Among Dickson’s many legacies was following his father Rush S. Dickson’s footsteps as chairman of the Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium) for 25 years.

“The Dickson family were major players in why Charlotte is Charlotte,” said Hynes, who succeeded Stuart Dickson as chairman of the hospital board. “Stuart Dickson was one of the leaders in why Atrium Health is Atrium.”

With his influence in the business and civic community, Dickson built a team with Charlotte legends, Hynes described as “the establishment of Charlotte.” The group included Hugh McColl, former chairman and CEO of Bank of America; Ed Crutchfield, longtime CEO of First Union bank; and Elizabeth Randolph, the first African-American woman promoted to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools offices and a leader during desegregation.

“It was an ambitious group that wanted to create a healthcare system in Charlotte that could take care of everyone,” Hynes said. “I stood on their shoulders, but particularly Stuart Dickson.”

In 2022, Atrium and Advocate Aurora Health combined to form one the largest health care systems in the country called Advocate Health.

“(Dickson) played a key role in building the foundation that has enabled us to continue to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing for the many communities we serve throughout North Carolina and far beyond,” Advocate Health CEO Eugene Woods told the Observer. “We are truly grateful for his incredible service.”

Rush Stuart Dickson, former owner of Harris Teeter grocer store chain and American & Efird textile manufacturer, died Saturday, May 11. He was 94.
Rush Stuart Dickson, former owner of Harris Teeter grocer store chain and American & Efird textile manufacturer, died Saturday, May 11. He was 94.

Dickson’s business side

In 2012, Rudick sold A&E for $180 million to focus on Harris Teeter. The same year, Ruddick Corp. officially became known as Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc.

In 2014, Harris Teeter became a subsidiary of Kroger after a $2.4 billion sale. Harris Teeter now operates more than 250 stores and 60 fuel centers in seven Southeastern states and the District of Columbia. The grocery chain has 35,000 employees, according to the company’s website.

In 2000, Dickson was inducted into the N.C. Business Hall of Fame. Two years later, the Dickson brothers retired as company executives, naming Stuart Dickson’s son Thomas “Tad” W. Dickson as chairman of Ruddick Corp. Six years later, Stuart Dickson retired from the board.

In 2018, Stuart Dickson and his brother (posthumously) were inducted into Queens University Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.

When Gene Cochrane was beginning his career in administration at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, he met Dickson in 1972. Dickson was chairman of the hospital’s board at the time.

“He was always so gracious when he didn’t have to be,” said Cochrane, retired president of The Duke Endowment. “He’d always stop and talk to us. He was a pure Southern gentleman.”

Through his business and civic work, Dickson played a pivotal role in community outreach. “He’s one of those icons of Charlotte’s past,” Cochrane said.

Dickson’s civic side

Along with Atrium, Dickson served on many boards for schools and community groups, according to the N.C. Business Hall of Fame website.

The long list includes Foundation For The Carolinas, Foundation for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Davidson College, Johnson C. Smith University, Queens College and Wake Forest University.

“My heart goes out to Stuart Dickson’s family and loved ones; our community has lost a true champion for philanthropy,” Cathy Bessant, CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas, said in a statement. “Stuart’s legacy will be the difference he made on the lives of others through his generosity.”

Dickson also was chairman and president of the family’s The Dickson Foundation, which supports education, health care, religious and charitable organizations mostly through grants. The foundation assets were over $75.5 million with distributions of $4 million, according to the latest available tax form filed in 2022.

“With the Dickson Foundation, Stuart and his late brother Alan made an immeasurable impact on our community, supporting causes such as access to healthcare, housing, education, the arts and more,” Bessant said.

The foundation has been a contributor, for example, to Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte Latin School and The Duke Mansion, Hynes said.

Dickson’s personal side

Dickson grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Davidson College in 1951.

“He was always happy, very positive, he loved golf and he loved to have a good time,” Hynes said.

Dickson joined the financial investment firm of Goldman Sachs in New York City before returning to Charlotte with his wife Joanne, who died in 2020.

Dickson is survived by his wife Kathy, whom he married last year, his four children, Rush S. Dickson III, Thomas Walter Dickson, John Alexander Dickson and Laura Lake Watkins, their spouses, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“He always had a smile and a handshake for me since I was a baby and always had time to talk,” Dickson’s godson Craig Moore said on Facebook. “He sure gave Life a good run.”

A funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. Kenneth W. Poe Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of arrangements.