T. Lewis Hooper, former president of Kings Entertainment, dies at 61

Posted Tuesday, May 23, 2006 9:56 AM | Contributed by Jeff

[Ed. note: The following obituary was submitted by the Paramount Parks marketing office. -J]

After a long illness, T. Lewis Hooper, a former president of Kings Entertainment (predecessor company of Paramount Parks), passed away May 21, 2006, at his home in Charlotte, N.C., with his loving family close by. His life was a model of achievement, philanthropy and unselfish service to others. He was 61.

Lew Hooper was a successful and innovative executive in the theme park industry, and he was a caring individual who generously gave to humanity and community. His creed was that one is measured by his deeds, not by the wealth he may accumulate.

The son of textile workers, his ingenuity and work ethic began as a young boy growing up in a north Charlotte mill neighborhood. He worked his way through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the cafeteria and earned a BA degree in History.

Lew was managing a Wachovia branch bank when construction began on the Carowinds theme park just south of Charlotte. He joined the Carowinds team in 1972 before the park opened, and thus started a 20-year career that led him to become recognized as a leader in the nation’s theme park industry.

Starting as group sales manager at Carowinds, he worked his way through the ranks to become general manager of the park. His efforts in turning Carowinds into a financial success earned him promotions to head larger parks, Kings Dominion in Virginia and Kings Island in Ohio. Eventually, he became president of Kings Entertainment, the parent corporation of the three parks.

Lew and other senior managers bought the company from Taft Broadcasting in 1984 and two years later moved its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte. He retired after the sale of the company to Paramount Communications in 1992, and devoted his remaining years to enjoying life with his family and quietly helping others.

Paramount Parks CEO, Alexander Weber Jr. said “Lew was more than a beloved friend to all the people that worked closely with him. While his presence will be tremendously missed, his legacy of leadership and integrity lives within all of us and the organization he so successful helped lead.”

Long-time colleague Nelson Schwab, former chairman and CEO of Kings Entertainment and Paramount Parks and who is now is the Chairman of the Board of Governors for The University of North Carolina, described Lew as a warm humanitarian and the best operational manager of his era in the theme park industry. “Without him, we would not have had the tremendous success that we did.”

Vicki Sutton, who succeeded Lew as general manager of Carowinds and later as president of Paramount Parks, described him as the most generous person she has ever known, with his generosity ‘measured by his gifts of spirit, heart, knowledge, as well as money.’ She was one of many in the company who grew to positions of major responsibility through the mentoring of Lew Hooper. “The lessons and skills that Lew taught me and countless others over the years are extraordinary,” she said. “He was a great leader who took the time to inspire those around him to reach beyond what they thought was their potential.”

Always thinking of his humble beginning, Lew reached out to others who needed a helping hand, never asking for anything in return. He made it a point to know and remember people’s names, regardless of their station in life. He was passionate in his concern for others.

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