HE WAS OUR FRIEND…
IN THE MID-1960’s, Ann Gregory wrote a series of Clinch Valley Times interviews with St. Paul personalitie. Fred Meade was one of the people Ann interviewed. In those days he was an aspiring businessman in St. Paul. If you remember him from that time period, then you know his business strategy was “work harder and work smarter.” It’s a good philosophy to follow because it certainly worked for him.
Fred considered customer service to be of prime importance in his business plan. He wore many hats, worked long hours, and did his best to provide merchandise within the means of every shopper. He was a friend as well as a loyal CVT advertiser, and “Big M” was one of the last stores of its kind in our area. When the students from St. Joseph’s University came to St. Paul, they loved going to Big M. Most of them had never seen a store like it
—-READ ON FOR A TRANSCRIPTION OF ANN’S ARTICLE—-
Brought up on a farm in the Copper Creek section of Russell County, Fred Meade has either lived and/or worked in St. Paul for the past thirteen years. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Meade, still live on the Russell County farm.
As a child in the first three elementary grades, Mr. Meade told me he had to walk four miles each day to get to the two-room Dorton School he attended, as there was no school bus service. Eventually, regular commercial bus line service was available, and he and his brothers took advantage of it until they got a bicycle for transportation.
After completing the seven grades at Dorton School, Meade went on to Castlewood High School where he played in the outfield on the baseball team. He was also an officer in the Science Club, was interested in agriculture, and was gossip editor of the school newspaper.
Upon graduating from Castlewood High School in 1952, Meade worked for Russell County, inspecting and measuring tobacco allotments. For about a year after that, he trucked fresh fruits and vegetables from South Carolina to Lebanon where he had a peddler’s license to sell the fresh produce on the street. Then came his first job at Fuller’s Market in St. Paul where he was stock boy, grocery clerk, delivery man, apprentice butcher, etc. He left Fuller’s to spend four years as butcher at another grocery store. Then he returned to his old location, but in a new capacity, as he leased the store from Mr. Fuller and it became known as Fred Meade’s Market.
In 1963, he bought the store, and is now owner and manager as well as stock boy, grocery clerk, delivery man, butcher, etc. He added the last mostly in jest, as he has excellent help in the store. But during rush times, he said everybody has to help out in every place.
Not too long after graduating from high school, Meade married Jimmy Gay Yates, and they now have two children. Jerry, who is 11, is in the fifth grade and plays Little League baseball. Angela, 7, is in the first grade. Both the children go to Castlewood Elementary School. The Meades lived in St. Paul from 1953 to 1955, and from 1957 to 1958, but now live in Castlewood.
Members of the St. Paul Baptist Church, the Meades are quite active in church work. A Sunday School Superintendent at Grove Baptist Church in Lebanon before he transferred his membership to St. Paul, Mr. Meade has been elected a Deacon of the St. Paul church. He also teaches the Intermediate Boys Sunday School class. Mrs. Meade is associate superintendent for the nursery department, and is active in the Women’s Missionary Union.
In his leisure hours – which are far too few, Meade told me – he enjoys bowling and his league average on the Western Auto team this past year was 153. Still a baseball fan, he favors the National League and particularly enjoys following the Cincinnati Reds. A deer hunter occasionally, Meade prefers hunting grouse and quail, and he and his son both like to fish. He has taken up coin collecting in the last few years, but says it’s on a very small scale.
Organizations to which Mr. Meade belongs include the Clinch Valley Coin Club, the American Bowling Congress, the Virginia Food Dealer’s Associaiton, and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce – which he serves as vice-president. For the past two years, he has been chairman of the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored St. Paul Christmas Parade.
Mr. Meade’s story is about himself and a series of near-calamities which he has experienced.
“One time when my brother and I were boys, we were bicycle riding one day with two of our friends,” the first episode began. It developed, however, that all four boys were on the same bicycle, which belonged to Mr. Meade’s teacher’s son. The two Meades were on the carrier over the back wheel, the owner was on the seat, and the other boy standing up was “driving.” They were riding on Lakeview Hill, a narrow, curving, steep road. Rounding each curve, the weight shifted and the bicycle wobbled more and more. Finally, the bicycle (swaying and picking up speed) could take the strain no longer. It gave one last wobble and wrecked. Although two of the boys were hurt, Meade walked away without a scratch.
One March day when he was still a youngster, he, his brother, and a cousin were walking in densely forested land near the Meade farm. The wind, building in volume and shrieking through the trees, sounded like an impending cyclone to the boys. Suddenly, several chestnut trees which had been killed by a blight and had been rotting away, were blown over by the wind and came crashing to the ground around the boys. Though unhurt, the boys were scared and they got back home in record time that day.
When he was older, Meade and a friend were squirrel hunting one day when the squirrel they were pursuing ran up a tree and into a hole. Not to be defeated, the boys climbed the tree to chase him out. Mr. Meade was on a limb with his feet level with the hole, and the friend was lower so he could look in and see if he could find the animal. A snake that had apparently been rudely awakened by the frightened squirrel invader popped his head angrily out of the hole, quite close to Mr. Meade’s feet and his friend’s face. Thinking fast, Meade lifted a foot and stomped on the snake, killing it. Thus he had another narrow escape.
The last little vignette concerns his short trucking career. He and a partner were driving a truckload of fresh produce they had just picked up in South Carolina. The friend was driving while Meade had a nap. Tired after a long day, the driver went to sleep, too – at the wheel. Fortunately, just as his eyes closed, the truck was coming into a small South Carolina town where the highway became a street with a curb. When Meade woke up, the truck was going under its own steam, running with wheels against the curbing. No one was hurt – nothing damaged.
“I’ve always enjoyed myself and have had a good life,” Meade told me when we began our conversation, “but nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened to me.” He should have said “….nothing out of the ordinary has ever QUITE happened to me.”
After operating Fred Meade’s Market on Broad Street on Broad Street for several years, Fred and Jimmy Gay Meade bought the former Jessee’s 5 & 10. It was located directly across the street from the market. The photo of Meade’s 5-10 below dates from the early 1970’s.
(Below) Here’s what Meade’s 5-10 looked like inside. Though not a large building, every inch of retail space was utilized. During back-to-school time and Christmas time, the store would be packed with shoppers. In the background, Fred Meade’s Market can be seen from the front window of the 5-10.
The Meade’s next business venture involved the purchase of the former Tiller’s Department Store on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broad Street in St. Paul. The picture below was taken in the early 1970’s during the store’s transition.
An interior view of Big M during its early days. Plenty of merchandise on hand and plenty of shoppers to buy it.
In the early 1970’s, the Southwest Bank of Virginia opened for business in St. Paul. Previously, the First National Exchange was St. Paul’s only bank. Pictured below is an early meeting of Southwest’s directors. Fred Meade, pictured at right was one of them. Quite informal and very much “home town.”