CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—Coker Tire Co. founder Harold Coker, 85, died Nov. 16.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1929 in a log cabin in Cherokee, N.C., Coker was the first of his family to receive a college education, according to information provided by the family for an obituary. He graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan College in 1949 with an associate degree in chemical engineering then graduated two years later from Tennessee Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. He married Lillian Thomas of Athens, Tenn., on Sept. 6, 1953.
An avid car enthusiast from a young age, Coker was one of the founding members of the Antique Automobile Club of America chapter in Athens in 1957, eventually becoming the National AACA president in 1972.
Coker Tire said on its blog that Coker “is loved and respected across our community and throughout the collector car community the world over. His passion for collector cars and people have influenced so many over the years…”
Coker began his business career as a territory manager with the old B.F. Goodrich Tire Co. before starting his own business, Coker Tire Co., in Athens in 1958 with the help of a loan from his parents, Hardy (Pop) and Ethel Coker, who sold their home to lend him the money. He moved his fledgling tire supply business to Chattanooga in 1961, leading the company to become the largest supplier of collector car tires and wheels in the world, according to Coker Tire.
In 1985, Coker served as president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, precursor trade group to the Tire Industry Association. He was inducted on Nov. 3 into TIA's Hall of Fame in a ceremony held during the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas.
Coker served in the National Guard, achieving the rank of Lieutenant. During his career he also served on the Hamilton County Commission in Tennessee for more than 20 years, with three terms as chairman in 1986, 1995 and 1999.
The family said Coker often was referred to as the “father of the local Hamilton County Republican Party,” serving as one of its most active county chairmen. While on the County Commission, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission. He also was president of the Pachyderm Club of Chattanooga, and ran for the U.S. Congress in 1988.