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Poultry titan Joe Hatfield dead at 84

Co-founded Fieldale Farms, Hall County’s largest poultry company

POSTED: June 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Joe S. Hatfield, whose founding of Fieldale Farms Corp. with brothers Lee and Tom Arrendale helped make Gainesville the poultry capital of the world, died Saturday. He was 84.

"He was a poultry pioneer and a strong leader," said Georgia Poultry Federation President Abit Massey. "He’ll definitely be missed."

Hatfield, who held the title of Fieldale Farms Corp. president since it was founded, was the last of the company’s three founders to die. He died at Northeast Georgia Medical Center surrounded by family after a brief illness.

Born in 1924 in Mount Juliet, Tenn., Hatfield began his career in poultry in 1947 with the Wilson Meat Packing Co. of Chicago after graduating from Purdue University with a degree in agriculture. In 1951, he moved to Gainesville as vice president of Georgia Broilers and in 1957, he purchased Gainesville Fryer Co. with others and was named its president.

In 1962, Ralston Purina purchased Hatfield’s Gainesville Fryer Co., a year after purchasing the Arrendales’ poultry operations. All three men worked for Ralston Purina, with Hatfield as a general manager of southeastern poultry operations.

In 1971, Ralston Purina leadership chose to sell off its U.S. poultry operations, and Hatfield, the Arrendales and other associates purchased the Northeast Georgia operation, renaming it "Fieldale," a combination of the names Hatfield and Arrendale.

Since then, the Baldwin-based company grew to nearly 5,000 employees, with sales in 1996 estimated at $360 million. It runs Northeast Georgia’s largest poultry operations at plants in Gainesville and Murrayville. Fieldale is the largest employer in Northeast Georgia.

Hatfield remained president and CEO at the time of his death, and until his recent hospitalization, went to work every day, Monday through Friday, said Tom Hensley, executive vice president of Fieldale Farms.

"He loved the business, he loved the challenge," Hensley said. "It was his vocation and his advocation at the same time."

Hatfield’s passing marks the end of an era for the company. Lee Arrendale died in a 1990 plane crash and Tom Arrendale died in 2003 at the age of 83.

Hatfield was described as a man quick with a smile and a handshake, possessing a keen business mind and a willingness to help others.

"What a lot of people don’t know is he’s been very generous in giving to others very quietly," said Bill House, a member of the Fieldale Farms Corp. board of directors.

House called Hatfield "one of the smartest people I’ve ever dealt with in my professional life, and one of the most successful. He did what needed to be done in the industry and was very intent on staying on the cutting edge."

Hatfield, who came from a poultry processing background, was among the original innovators of "vertical integration," the concept of combining poultry farming, feed mills and processing components in one company, Hensley said.

"You can’t have a list of poultry pioneers complete without his name," Hensley said.

House said Hatfield "was a man of few words, but when he spoke, you better listen, because he was generally right."

Sammy Smith, who was Fieldale’s public affairs director before founding his own public relations firm, said Hatfield was heard beyond Northeast Georgia.

"Mr. Hatfield epitomized the champions of commerce this nation has long admired," Smith said. "Shy with a quick wit, and in a quiet voice heard in the halls of Congress and in trade negotiations across the globe, one needs not look too far to see his influence and success. His patriarchal demeanor was renown."

Hatfield was twice named to U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Trade Representative’s export policy advisory commissions and was also former chairman of the National Broiler Council, now called the National Chicken Council. Hatfield also had made American trade missions to China, Iraq, Chile and other export destination around the globe.

Hatfield had a common touch with his numerous employees, Hensley said.

"Everyone looked up to him, but they were also his friends," Hensley said. "He could talk to a janitor as easily as the plant manager."

When it was suggested he spend his recent hospitalization at Emory University Hospital, The Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins Hospital, Hatfield remained loyal to the hospital for which he served as a board member for 20 years, Hensley said.

"He said, no, ‘I’m going to stay right here in Gainesville, Ga.,’ and that’s what he did," Hensley said.

Hatfield was a major contributor to the United Way, Brenau University, Lakeview Academy and Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He also was chairman of the Hall County Hospital Authority for a number of years.

"The community has lost a great leader and a great philanthropist," Hensley said.

"He can’t be replaced," House said.

Hatfield is survived by his wife, Carrie; son, Joe M. Hatfield; and daughter, Betty H. Goldberg, as well as grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville. The family will receive friends after the service at the church.

Mason and Ward Funeral Home of Gainesville is in charge of arrangements.

This is a corrected version of a previous story.


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