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H.C. “Footsie” Pratt Provides Major Gift to Virginia Highlands Community College
H.C. “Footsie” Pratt, a self-made businessman who has wrangled land deals throughout the region for more than 60 years, has made a substantial gift to Virginia Highlands Community College in support of the college’s programs and services.
The contribution will allow Virginia Highlands to move forward with the first major gifts campaign in its 50-year history, said VHCC President Gene C. Couch Jr. A recent feasibility study indicated there is overwhelming community support for a campaign to support the college’s programs and services, he added.
“We’re extremely grateful to have the support of a community icon like Footsie Pratt as we begin our first-ever major gifts campaign,” Dr. Couch said. “His life’s work has positively impacted our community and enhanced the quality of life we all enjoy, He’s taking another step in that direction now by investing in VHCC students.”
Mr. Pratt said his support for the college is the result of a recent conversation he had with longtime friend Dr. Bobby Griffin, a Bristol businessman who is serving as an honorary chairman of the VHCC campaign. Mr. Pratt’s wife, Ann, was by his side as he presented the check to Griffin and offered words of wisdom garnered from a lifetime of hard work.
“I believe in education and good manners,” he said. “A ‘thank you’ will get you a long way in life. You’ve got to have the desire to do something and have good manners if you’re going to make it. That’s the best advice I can give anyone.”
Born and raised in Russell County, Mr. Pratt earned his unusual nickname just hours after he was born, when his uncle commented that the biggest thing about the tiny infant was his feet. The nickname “Feetsie” soon became “Footsie” as he has been known by friends, family, and business associates in the 78 years since. He found school nearly unbearable, he said, thanks to a childhood stutter, and spent more time developing his first business venture - selling pencils and paper to classmates - than on his schoolwork.
He finally graduated from high school when he was 20, used his nest egg to buy a service station in Rosedale for $15,000, then sold it at the age of 21 for $40,000. Encouraged by the hefty profit, he began searching for new opportunities and negotiating deals throughout the region – and elsewhere, too, when the time was right.
While a patient in a Myrtle Beach hospital in the 1970s, he learned the facility was for sale. Soon after being discharged, he bought the hospital and its contents. He made money by dividing the assets and selling to multiple buyers, he explained.
He’s also dabbled in cows. He once owned and operated one of Virginia’s most successful livestock markets and, when he learned that Black Watch Farms of New York had filed bankruptcy, purchased about 1,600 head of cattle and turned the company around.
He works primarily by himself - a “one-man show,” according to his wife.
“Honestly, he could sell snow to an Eskimo,” she said. “He has personality plus, a true interest in people, a keen sense for business, and a drive for success. He’s always had a knack for finding property with potential and seeking customers interested in buying whatever he had to sell.”
He bought “The Meadows” (The historical site now owned by Food City) in the 1980’s, later selling it to Jim Brown. He lived on the property for 22 years while raising his children on this magnificent farm. Many political events and parties were held at “The Meadows” over the years, all through Mr. Pratt’s orchestration. He was known in the community as the perfect party planner; lining up food, drinks, and providing bands at many of his events.
Over the years, he’s bought and sold restaurants, motels, farms, shopping centers, vacant land, a rock quarry and a coal mine. He subdivided property when necessary to make a profit and learned to be patient until the right deal came along. Once he bought property in foreclosure that was being sold by a bank. He purchased the property over the phone, sight unseen. Mr. Pratt said he estimated that the book value on the property far exceeded the selling price so he could make a sizable profit. Later the raw land was developed into what is now known as Short Pump, a popular shopping area near Richmond. Several years ago he bought another large tract on the west end of Bristol, unsure that he had invested wisely until the developers of The Pinnacle made an offer. He still owns some surrounding acreage and will sell that when the time is right, he said.
But Mr. Pratt said he made one of the wisest deals of his career when he purchased his childhood home from his father. Built in the early 1900s, the historic mansion sits high on a hill in the Rosedale community of Russell County and has many fond memories for him.
Now battling cancer, Mr Pratt said he is grateful for the career he’s enjoyed and ready to help others. Although he found success without a formal education, he knows the world has changed dramatically since he sold his first pencil on the schoolhouse steps. He hopes his gift to VHCC will help others in the community
“Education, hard work, ambition and perseverance are all important,” he said. “Know yourself and work hard. You have to be willing to go after what you want.”
Mr. Pratt has two daughters, Abbey and Megan, and two granddaughters, Andie Cait and Scarlett.