Remembering Oscar Poole
April 29, 1930 - May 31, 2020
Written in 2004
Revised in 2019 from Sigler.org
Oscar Poole was born in 1930 of southern parents into a cosmopolitan (tourist) environment in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He attributed much of his eclecticism (drawing truth from many sources) to his childhood. People from all over the U.S. and Canada spent their winters on his father's old-fashioned tourist camp on U.S. Highway 1 on the eastern coast of Florida. His father had been a successful farmer in South Georgia and moved to Florida in 1924. They came from places in the Northern Americas such as Pennsylvania (Dutch), New York. Boston, Ohio, and Canada. These “Yankees” treated this little boy like family, and he returned this kindness. Even Oscar’s accent was a mixture of these northerners, and later in life, hardly anyone ever guessed he was a native Floridian. Oscar said his loving associations with the environment he grew up in shaped his worldview.
Oscar never had to deal with a racist attitude. At age 5, he reportedly hugged two little black girls (twins with pig-tails) in his father’s corner grocery store. His mother said he could not refrain from embracing those little girls. Two years earlier, at the age of 3, Oscar began attending Sunday School and did not miss a single Sunday for 58 years! Those folks at the church taught him that Jesus loved all the children of the world, and he believed it!
Oscar received two shocks: Edna, whose maiden name was Shock - the 'shock' of his life — and the 'A' in Greek with his part-time piano teaching!
These early experiences strengthened Oscar’s already southern hard—work ethic and created within him a passion for study and inquiry into the truth, which never let up! He went on to complete seminary training and graduate work. After the 'A' in Greek, Oscar earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master's degrees, and one doctorate. Oscar said he made his mind his laboratory. Oscar was the president of La Vie, a retreat centered in North Georgia where people gather to inquire into the truth and seek new understandings of universal truths. Oscar identified himself with what he called an 'avant-garde' approach to life, never satisfied with the status quo, but ever questing for further revelation. (This 'avant-garde' approach got Oscar into trouble on more than one occasion!)
Oscar spent thirty years as a pastor of churches and received the 'Minister of the Year’ award three times. In 1971, the United Methodist Church listed Oscar’s ministry in Hiram, Georgia, as one of the “top one hundred most creative and innovative ministries” within the denomination.
Always the adventurer and “seeker for truth,” Oscar found himself disillusioned with organized religion. He began to see that people gave too much attention to “form” and very little to “essence.” Amid his success within religious systems, hierarchies, and forms, Oscar asked, like the words in the song, “Is that all there is?”
Outside the system and, surprisingly, through a business adventure, Oscar saw a new light breaking. A new dawning! He discovered he was not alone. One by one, here and there, he found others on similar journeys of faith and others disillusioned, though committed seekers. He began to see that he was in the midst of a new stream in history. The 'old' was giving way to the 'new.' For a while, Oscar felt trapped! He loved the old, but he knew that it was futile, had lost its savor, and was not working. Then, Oscar realized that there could not be the 'new' without the 'old,' and this seemed to satisfy him. Now, he no longer tries to convert people to his point of view but shares how the 'new’ light has affected him in his experiences.
All of a sudden, everything within the 'old' and the 'new' seemed to fit. A renewed patience seemed to well up inside Oscar. He said that "given time, all will see the light" and become transformed “from glory to glory” (a phrase from the Bible).
Already steeped in theology and philosophy, Oscar began to sense this newness in nuclear physiology. What he saw seemed to be a dynamic relationship. One day, in 1975, Oscar was sent by his colleagues to attend a 'science-for-clergy' seminar at Oakridge, Tennessee. A nuclear physicist declared, “Basic matter seems to have the capacity to respond to a loving person!” that one could speak to electrons, neutrons, and molecules, and, somehow, they could be affected. Oscar had a vision! He saw himself beside a suffering patient (free radicals gone wild and in rebellion) and saw himself talking to them! Oscar was already a Personalist from his seminary days, believing that the universe and all of reality can be explained spiritually.
Oscar saw that there is a dynamic 'connection' between people and the created order (matter). He spent much time alone in his “thinking laboratory.” For ten years, he was almost a recluse. He spent much time ‘listening' to the voice within. For a time, he didn’t even read books. He felt he was under a mandate to be quiet and listen. This he faithfully did (all the while building a world-renowned restaurant in North Georgia). It has only been recently that Oscar has (as he says) “come out of the woods” and has been free to speak, this time with more profound clarity (more relevant) and, hopefully, with a clearer voice. His book, “Speak To It,” represents a part of this.
It was in 1989 that Oscar returned to the mountains of North Georgia near the remote village of Mineral Bluff. He spent much time alone in meditation and solitude. He began to speak out loud in what he called “confessions of faith.” He especially spoke to himself in personalized utterances. He knew that he was programming himself for success.
It was shortly after arriving in his new home that Oscar and his wife Edna “stumbled” onto a little roadside barbeque shack in East Ellijay (seventy-five miles north of Atlanta). Oscar discerned an inner voice, “If you go over to that hill and do the menial work, I’ll show the world what I will do.” He took this to be the voice of God that he had heard several times before. He talked his wife Edna into joining him, and today, Col. Poole’s Georgia Bar-B-Q, Inc., known affectionately as the “Pig Hill of Fame,” has become a first-class eatery shown across the world on TV., in magazines, on the radio, and in newspapers.
These early experiences strengthened Oscar’s already southern hard—work ethic and created within him a passion for study and inquiry into the truth, which has never let up! He went on to complete seminary training and graduate work. After the 'A' in Greek, Oscar earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master's degrees, and one doctorate. Oscar says he made his mind his laboratory. Oscar is the former president of La Vie, a retreat centered in North Georgia where people gather to inquire into the truth and seek new understandings of universal truths. Oscar identified himself with what he called an 'avant-garde' approach to life, never satisfied with the status quo, but ever questing for further revelation. (This 'avant-garde' approach got Oscar into trouble on more than one occasion!)
In 1990, Oscar received the title “Colonel” from the governor of Kentucky. Many claim that “as Colonel Sanders was to fried chicken, Oscar is the Colonel of Bar-B-Q!” One day the “Cultural Counselor” of the Swedish Embassy in Washington dropped by and said, “This place is so tacky, it’s classic! In all my travels across the U.S., this is the most Americana thing I’ve seen.” Oscar had him write this to the local Chamber of Commerce.
As a result of someone mailing a picture postcard of the “tacky’ place, John Baeder, a leading folk artist, showed up and asked if he could do an oil painting of the restaurant. Oscar and Edna agreed. Within months, a 44” x 66” painting was hung in a New York City art gallery. Today, the painting hangs in the Morris Art Museum in Augusta, Georgia, as a living tribute to folk-artistry in America.
During the same year, the Colonel’s famous “seen around the world on T.V.” Pig-Mobile was parked on the Capitol steps of the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., where Oscar fed over 400 Congressmen and their staff members in the Sam Rayburn Building. Colonel Poole’s Bar-B-Q has returned to serve its world-famous barbecue every year since, including both the House and Senate — a total of eight times! Not bad for a roadside shack just a few years earlier.
In the fall of 2003, Atlanta’s prestigious Lenox Square Mall’s “Artwalk” featured a photograph of the renowned Pig-Mobile with the famous little cut-out pigs covering the hill behind. During the years, local folks of the small mountain town began to rethink their earlier views of what now has become a North Georgia legend and landmark.
The eatery has been featured in Southern Living two times, as well as in U.S. News and World Report, National Geographic, and many others.
When reporters and other media would contact Oscar (now referred to as the “Colonel”), he would chuckle and “laugh up his sleeve” because he knew the secret. He had sowed the seed much earlier in his “Confessions of Faith” — many of which appear at the end of his book. What was happening was the workings-out of what he had said.
In 1992, The Colonel began his T.V. Debut when Pat Buchanan started his campaign for the Presidency of the United States at the Bar-B-Q. Over 500 people showed up for the inaugural event, with CNN, ABC-TV, and NBC-TV, as well as nearly all the television stations of Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. CBC of Canada and Reuters News Agency also covered the occasion. The Colonel refers to this as his “Day of Infamy!” The restaurant's business doubled in one week.
Many other celebrities and political candidates have stopped by to see Colonel Poole. Several notable figures include Miss America Heather Whitestone, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Congressman Johnny Isakson, Former Governor Lester Maddox, Congressman Nathan Deal, World Wrestling Champion Bill Goldberg, CEO’s of major corporations, and scores of others. Six events have broadcasted over national television at the restaurant. Syndicated radio talk shows have broadcast live from the restaurant, including Ludlow Porch and Al Gainey. A local newspaper editor commented, “It looks like the Republicans can’t come to town without stopping by Col. Poole’s Bar-B-Q!”
Joe Kelley McCutchen, a T.V. talk-show host, known as the “Number 1 call-in man in America,” has been a vital part of the success of Colonel Poole’s Bar-B-Q. As Joe has called into the nation’s top television and radio talk shows, he has often mentioned Col. Poole’s World-Famous Bar-B-Q. Of course, this has led to making the business more famous. When people in Georgia mention the towns of Ellijay or East Ellijay, they think of Col. Poole’s Bar-B-Q and apples (Gillmer County, where the restaurant is located, is known as the “Apple Capital of Georgia”).
So, what is the significance of all this? Oscar says it’s his new forum to speak out and counsel on many issues. He found himself very much involved in the personal lives of his new friends, scattered across the country, his “new church!” Also, it is a living and vibrant testimony to what he believes is spiritual truth, especially when it comes to “[speaking] to it!” He never ceases to declare that the exponential growth of his business is because he has patterned the Bar-B-Q after the parable of the “Seed and the Sower” told by Jesus in the gospel of Mark.
“It’s all spiritual,” Oscar says. “So is everything else!” As he has begun speaking at success rallies, he declares, “If we can do it, so can you!” He gets into his “CBA” philosophy — “what the mind CONCEIVES, and the heart BELIEVES, you can ACHIEVE!”
Finally, Oscar wants to demonstrate that what he says in his book works. “What good,” Oscar says, “is a philosophy or system of ideas that does not work?” He believes his philosophy does, and he maintains that the success of his business proves it. It’s a theology where the “shoe hits the road.” It’s practical, and it works! His focus became re-directed from the “way out there in the future” to the “right here and now” — in the existential moment.
So, where are Oscar and his wife Edna headed? They spend some time at the restaurant, of course, shaking hands, welcoming guests, playing the piano, and doing mostly P.R. work. They also spend a good deal of time traveling in their motor home (at the moment of this writing, they have stopped by at Hondo, Texas where they have done what they like best — meeting new friends). They stop here and there, giving brief piano concerts, entertaining groups, leading seminars, and writing hooks.
Oscar feels his life has been too interesting not to write some of it down, but most of all, he “sees” something NEW over the horizon, and he wants to share it with you! The Poole’s are available for visiting in homes, backyards, retreats, lodges, or simply a few folks gathered who might just be experiencing the light that he sees. Sometimes, he finds himself sharing his “non-churchy” views in churches.