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Weekly 150: Paul Thomas Carroll

From Farmer to Real Estate Developer

Posted 6/30/20

The Great Depression and World War II molded the group known as the Greatest Generation. They are the parents of the “Baby Boomers” and are the children of the “Lost …

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Weekly 150: Paul Thomas Carroll

From Farmer to Real Estate Developer


The Great Depression and World War II molded the group known as the Greatest Generation. They are the parents of the “Baby Boomers” and are the children of the “Lost Generation” (those who grew up during World War I). Their grandchildren are members of Generation X, Generation Y, and their great-grandchildren tend to be Millennials and Gen Z. News anchor and author Tom Brokaw popularized the term that marked a generation that brought some of the greatest changes to the twentieth century.

Over the last two years, I have written quite a few features that included members of the Greatest Generation. I feel the greatest pride in researching and writing about the individuals because they brought about so many changes especially in McKenzie. These were the business men and women I remember as prominent figures McKenzie in my youth.

As I looked through the Banner archives this week, I came across a story on Paul Carroll and I thought how fitting for a feature for the July 4 weekend.

Paul Thomas Carroll was born to Harry and Lucille Carroll on February 2, 1925, on a farm near Peppers Ford in McKenzie. He was the oldest child amongst his two sisters Betty and Nell.

He was quoted as saying his mother spoiled him while his father put him to work on the family farm. There he learned about raising cotton and food crops, milking cows and keeping hogs. Sunday was his day of rest while attending church services at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on Shiloh Road.

Following graduation from McKenzie High School, Paul made one last crop with the family, then “disgusted with farming” he joined the United States Army. He was shipped to Tyler, Texas for his induction training followed by stints in New York and a few other camps. He requested to be transferred to the European Theater.

“I opened my big mouth to the wrong fella then ‘cause he sent me down to the 100th Infantry Division,” he said. After two weeks crossing the Atlantic, his convoy reached the French shores. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) bombarded the incoming ships looking to dock forcing the American troops to jump overboard and swim to shore.

Carroll’s assigned division trained as mountain troops in the Alps. Wintering in the mountain caves, he once remarked, “For about a month there we had to stop and just try to sway warm; all the rest of them did too. We had two winters to live through that thing.”

The 100th Infantry Division was part of a four American and one French division operation responsible for laying mines. Later they were charged with the task of mine removal. Originally sent as replacement troops, Carroll was one of only two survivors in the anti-tank platoon.

After World War II, he remained in Europe as a member of the occupation forces working as an MP (Military Police).

Back stateside, Carroll taught agriculture courses to veterans who were also home from the war. The program was sponsored by the general government as a way to provide jobs and skillsets to returning veterans.

It was around this time he began dating Nellie Vick. After a year of going to the movies, dances and ice cream parlors they were married. They had two sons, Michael and James.

Carroll left his teaching position to operate and manage the McKenzie Seed Company with partner Billy Vawter. He later sold his shares to childhood friend John Moseley. He found employment with the Wallace Seed Company as a traveling sales representative. Being on the road every day took its toll on Carroll and he began looking for a career change.

After reading a book on insurance, he decided to make the leap. In 1960, he partnered with Billy Bryant to purchase Leach’s Insurance Agency. They remained partners for 25 years until 1985 when he bought out Bryant.

Carroll was more than an insurance agent to McKenzie. For many years, he was an active board member on the McKenzie Industrial Board since its creation in 1960. Working closely with men like Hoot Gibson, McKenzie showed an increase in growth and industrial development.

Two major accomplishments that can be attributed to Carroll and others during this period is the construction of the McKenzie Industrial Park and McKenzie Hospital.

Carroll also served as a Carroll County magistrate (commissioner) holding the position of finance chairman. During Ned McWherter’s tenure as Tennessee Governor, he was part of a delegation who traveled to Nashville to work with the governor on improvements to Highway 22 from McKenzie to Gleason and Highway 79 from McKenzie to Paris.

In 1990, he sold his insurance agency to his son, James, and daughter-in-law, Ruth. Though out of the insurance business, Carroll stayed active.

In the 1980s, he purchased a farm from his aunt’s estate. By 1989, he took an active role in tending to the land. The farm was used to raise beef. He later subdivided the farm and developed the land for the Holly Hills Subdivision.

In 1993, his wife, Nellie, died. Carroll continued to live in town and work on his farm. He said in an interview, he built and lived in the house his wife wanted to build after seeing plans in the books she enjoyed reading. On Friday, May 31, 2002, he died at age 77. Carroll is interred next to Nellie at Mount Olivet Cemetery.


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