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Amusement Industry Legend Francis "Pat" Guthrie Passes; Leaves Behind a Legacy
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Francis “Pat” Patrick Guthrie passed away Thursday, April 4, 2019. Born in August of 1946, Pat Guthrie was one of five Guthrie boys who made a big impact in show business. He was known as a true showman, leader and fearless businessman. His accomplishments were many; in fact, too large for this article to contain them all.

His hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky, is famous for its association with Daniel Boone's passage out west. But Becky Guthrie, one of Pat's two daughters, says her father was more impressed with the two shows that frequented the town – Drew Expositions and Ringling Bros and the Barnum & Bailey Big Top – than the Boone connection. 

Guthrie was said to be a hard worker from a young age. He bought his first truck at the age of 13 in an effort to expand his paper route. Of course, the local sheriff had something to say about that! Guthrie held his first carnival around age 15, when it is rumored he and Bill Schad built a Ferris wheel in a friend's yard. 

By the time he was 18, he had purchased his first ride, a Roll-O-Plane.

He and his brothers were all involved in show business in one way or another. Guthrie enlisted their help after his siblings completed military service, college  or “youth adventures”. The business was a family affair, though he was primarily partners with his younger brother Ray. The two were also competitors and best friends. His immediate family helped out in a number of ways as well; Becky and her sister were involved with ticket sales and sales pitching. Guthrie's endeavors were expansive.

“He did it all,” Becky shares. “He worked with a number of shows when they came to town, but got his start as a bill poster and game guy with Gold Medal Shows.” He named his last show in its memory.

His first circus was named after Becky and her sister, Gulia Guthrie Hann.

“He built Guthrie Shows, The Great American Guthrie Carnival Company, Jules & Beck Combined Big Top Circus, Gribble Bros. Trucking, Jules & Beck Carnival,” says Becky. “Guthrie Shows had its route expanded throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Georgia. The midway expanded with one of the ?rst Skydiver rides. In addition to his business achievements, he was named the youngest showman by Billboard Magazine at 21. He was also the youngest and one of the 16 members of the original Gibtown Club as a show owner at age 21,” she continues. “Additionally, he was given the rank of Colonel by the state of Kentucky, as well as the nickname 'The Wheel Man,' by Carnival Magazine.”

Becky says the circus was his real love. Guthrie mentored with Hoxie Tucker, owner of Hoxie Bros Circus. Tucker taught him how to handle and care for elephants, as well as the ins and outs of circus management. Myrtle the elephant was the first elephant Guthrie purchased for The Great American Guthrie Carnival Company, and several others followed. It was after mentoring with Tucker that he opened the Jules & Beck Combined Big Top Circus. He also studied legendary promoters and followed in their footsteps, producing an “Elvis Show.” His love of animals was constant throughout his entire life – from his elephants Myrtle, Lisa, Betty and Stacy, to his menagerie of llamas, liberty ponies, donkey and camel. Guthrie's dog, Rex, was also famous for managing the crew.

Becky says that her father never questioned what he wanted to do with his life and didn't understand people who had no idea what they wanted.

“If he wanted to do something, he found a way to do it,” she shares. “He was known as a person who did everything he wanted to do, and wouldn't let obstacles block him from getting to where he wanted to be. Remember, this was before Nike saying 'Just Do It.' Our dad was telling us that in the 70s. His mind never stopped thinking, and he saw an abundance of opportunities.”

Her father's left arm was said to be calloused and sunburned from all his time spent on the road. 

“He always hustled to make a dollar – as a teen he drove loads of watermelon from Kentucky to Florida, sold coal, Christmas trees, and gave elephant tour rides at ShowBiz Pizza venues,” says Becky.

Ever the entrepreneur, he also owned one of the first Mail Boxes Etc. stores, a country store and Bribble Bros. Trucking. Earlier in his career, he and his brother Ray bought a trucking business with limited funds.

“He had a knack at getting folks to believe in him and his energy to make it work,” Becky adds.

Outside of his business endeavors, Guthrie didn't have many hobbies and wasn't much into sports. But he did enjoy horse trading, vintage cars, vintage carnival rides and watching Westerns and waves in the water.

“At one point, he had the largest collection of antique Allen Herschel rides in the U.S.,” Becky shares. “And he was proud that Drew Expositions took on the project of restoring his Space Wheel. His ground model Eli Wheel was a featured exhibit for the Ferris Wheel 100th anniversary celebration at the Chicago Museum of Science; many of his antique rides are in use at Knoebels Amusement Park.

“His legacy lives with the people he encountered every day,” she continues. “Pat was my father, but he was a father and mentor to many. He believed that if you could find what a person loved to do and put them in that job, it would be a success; if a person was failing in a job, it was because it was the wrong job for them. He felt great responsibility for his team and those around him; he wanted them to succeed.”

Though he was known to be a tough teacher at times, Guthrie was said to be a generous person as well.“His tough exterior overshadowed his large contributions to many charities, including the Catholic church, Indian reservation schools, St. Judes, and many more,” Becky adds. “We are proud to be his daughters and thankful for having him as a father. He taught us to do what we love and never give up! As a showman he did it all – booked the route, wired the generator, drove the truck, put up the circus tent, worked the elephants, tore down the Ferris wheel, and loved it!”

Guthrie spent his last few days taking care of business. At some point in time he said, “I have done everything I want to do. Life can't get much better than that.”

He credited his wife, Pam Guthrie, for making him a success.

A funeral service/mass will be held for Francis “Pat” Guthrie at 1 p.m.Friday, May 10, at the St. Peter the Rock Catholic Church, 3594 Barnesville St., Thomason, GA, 30286

Pat Guthrie
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