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Dale Halton, trailblazing CEO of Pepsi bottling company and philanthropist, dies

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 3/21/2023 Catherine Muccigrosso, The Charlotte Observer

Dale Halton — one of Charlotte’s first female CEOs — has died.

She died Tuesday morning, Halton’s husband of 25 years Fred Wagner III confirmed Tuesday night. She was 85.

Wagner said he’s in the process of making arrangements.

Halton revived Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte and had a spirit for helping others.

Born Barksdale Fowler Dick, Halton graduated in the 1950s from Myers Park High School.

Through her foundation, Halton gave back millions of dollars in the Charlotte region. Her name is on buildings throughout Charlotte, including a UNC Charlotte sports arena and the performing arts center at Central Piedmont Community College.

Her fingerprints are on nearly every facility built at UNC Charlotte, the Charlotte 49ers said last year when honoring Halton. She was inducted into the college’s inaugural Hall of Fame.

“She’s a fan who cares about the development of the student-athletes. She wants them to succeed, not just so we can win more games, but so they can see greater success outside our walls,” the college said in its Hall of Fame spotlight.

Leading the family business

In 1905, Henry and Sadie Fowler, Halton’s grandparents, founded Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte. It was Pepsi-Cola’s first bottling franchise. Pepsi was founded in 1903 by New Bern pharmacist Caleb Bradham.

“I was raised on Pepsi,” Halton told The Charlotte Observer in a 2012 interview.

After graduating from Myers Park High, Halton went to Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Two years later, she married and had three children.

In the 1970s, she “went from the laundry room to the board room,” joining the family business in Charlotte overseeing advertising.

In 1981, Halton became CEO of the family’s soft drink business when the company was near bankruptcy.

But Halton, with no formal training in business and executives beside her including Darrell Holland, was able to turn the company around. Eventually the company increased pay and added employee benefits, including a 401(k) program, bonuses and dental insurance.

In 2005, marking the company’s 100th anniversary, Halton gave $1,000 for each year an employee worked with the company. The total, the Observer reported then, was $3 million.

Halton ran the company until 2005, when she retired and sold it to Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. of Somers, N.Y. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, according to industry publication MH&L archives.

Track record of trailblazing

In 1981, Charlotte had several female executives but only Halton was the head of a name-brand company, according to Charlotte Observer archives.

“She had courage,” Jane McIntyre, then executive director of United Way of Central Carolinas, told the Observer in 2012.

In her new role, Halton was met with hard phone slams and callers cursing her out, she told the Observer. Even Pepsi sent two of its lawyers threatening to take the franchise away because of her gender, she told Business North Carolina magazine last year.

But they didn’t follow through. And a few years later, the Charlotte company with 400 employees was one of Pepsi’s top-performing bottlers.

A mentor for others

What started as a professional relationship grew into a personal friendship, Judy Rose, former UNC Charlotte athletic director, told the Observer on Tuesday.

In 1990, when Rose was named athletic director, she was the third female in the country to lead a Division I program. Chancellor Jim Woodward introduced her to Halton as a mentor.

“(She) took me under her wing as female in a male-dominated industry,” Rose said. “She wanted to make sure I was introduced and met the people that I was going to need to go to from a fundraising standpoint.”

Rose said she went to Halton countless times to help with building facilities and get the football team and the football field house off the ground.

“Instead of naming it for herself, she named it for me,” Rose said. “That to me just speaks volumes to who Dale is.”

Tuesday was also the annual fundraising luncheon for women’s athletics. Rose said Halton had attended the last 17 years.

“This has been one of the hardest days for me,” she said. “Any success I had, she gets 50% plus credit. Any time I went to her asking for assistance, she always committed and was involved and engaged.

“She just became our biggest fan and our biggest advocate,” Rose said.

And Halton’s support went beyond the college’s sports fields.

“Our world is a little lesser grand, but she made her mark not just for UNC Charlotte, but certainly for this whole community,” Rose said. “We will miss her tremendously but we will celebrate her.”

Philanthropy and community spirit

Halton also gave generously to Central Piedmont Community College as well as N.C. Dance Theatre, now Charlotte Ballet. As a child, she was an aspiring dancer who also enjoyed athletics.

Halton created a charitable foundation that gave 10% of the company’s profits to charity each year, including UNC Charlotte.

She endowed academic scholarships, backed study-abroad programs and supported athletics at UNC Charlotte, where her name is on several buildings including the Halton Arena for basketball, the tennis facility and the reading room in the school’s Atkins Library.

“Our athletic program would not look like it does today if Dale Halton had not been so generous,” Rose said in 2012.

Halton donated $1.3 million to UNC Charlotte’s basketball team. The arena bearing her name opened in 1996.

“It’s not so much for athletics. It’s to help some of these kids who’d never be able to go to college without an athletic scholarship,” Halton previously told the Observer.

The Huntersville private independent school, Halton School, also is named in her honor. It was the first school created by Aspire Carolinas Foundation, co-founded by Halton, for children with learning challenges, typically Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the school’s website.

Halton also was a major contributor and supporter of The John Crosland School in Charlotte. The independent K-12 school is for children with learning challenges, such as attention deficit disorder, the Observer previously reported.

“The more you have, the more responsibility you have to give to others,” Halton said in 2012. “I think it’s important to help folks who don’t have what I have. I wish I could do more. It’s fun.”

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