Greg Poole Jr., a leading businessman in the Triangle for decades and a visionary behind Dorothea Dix Park, died Saturday. He was 84.
He died after a brief illness, according to an obituary published in The News & Observer.
Poole, a Raleigh native, led Gregory Poole Equipment, one of the state’s largest Caterpillar dealers, from 1964 until he retired in 1998. The company — which he bought from his father and later sold to his son — sold many of the bulldozers that cleared land across the Triangle for new subdivisions and shopping centers.
As the Triangle’s population grew, so did the company, eventually employing hundreds of workers. It now employs more than 1,200 people, according to Ben Bradsher, a vice president for the company.
“He was a great man, he was a visionary and he was a friend,” said Bradsher, who has worked at Poole Equipment since 1971. “He cared about his employees and he cared deeply about his customers.”
Though he had retired, Poole still visited his old company from time to time in recent years, Bradsher said. Most recently, he came to a customer luncheon the Friday before Christmas, where he seemed in good health, Bradsher added.
Poole’s endeavors were not limited to construction equipment, however. Poole also helped his father, Greg Sr., develop the MacGregor Downs neighborhood in Cary and later founded the MacGregor Development Company.
But his dream and his vision, Bradsher said, was the creation of Dorothea Dix Park, which he spent more than a decade working to create after retiring from Poole Equipment.
Poole was the leader of Dix Visionaries, one of the main advocacy groups for the project, raising millions of dollars for the park. As a leader of the group, he helped craft a vision of the 300-plus acres of state-owned land as a marquee park near downtown Raleigh.
In a letter to The N&O in 2008, Poole wrote that he hoped by 2030 that Dix Park, then home to a closing psychiatric hospital, would become the “crown jewel of the city’s park system.”
“In 2030, I hope everyone will say, ‘I can’t imagine Raleigh without Dix Park,” he wrote. “Dix Park is a legacy our leaders can and should leave to future generations. All great cities have a great park. Our chance to create that park is now.”
Without Poole’s leadership, Dix Park would not exist today, said Sig Hutchinson, a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
“In my view, we wouldn’t have Dix as a park today, if it were not for Greg Poole,” Hutchinson said, remembering the difficult process of acquiring the land from state. Without Poole’s ability to bring together all of the differing interests for the park, it would have failed, Hutchinson added.
“It was a life’s mission come true,” Hutchinson said of Dix Park. “It is the best you can hope for in life to have your sole passion come to fruition. He never said it and never would say it — but I know that he knows in his heart that it wouldn’t have happened without his leadership and his guidance.”
Fittingly, Bradsher said, Poole’s visitation will be at Dorothea Dix Park from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 1.