Bob Lassiter was a product of “old Charlotte.” Following a prep career at Woodberry Forest, where he was Senior Prefect and football captain, he enrolled at Yale. There, while performing academically at the Phi Beta Kappa level, he also captained the football team – this at a time when Yale, Harvard and Princeton were college football’s “Big Three.” The following report in Time magazine’s November 28, 1932 issue about the Big Game – Harvard v. Yale – is informative.
“A gusty wind from Long Island Sound lashed rain into the Yale Bowl by the cloudful. The 50,000 people kept away from the field until the last minute and then piled into the Bowl wearing oilskins, rubber boots, blankets, and with newspapers folded around their necks for scarves and wrapped around their hats . . . The first break came five minutes into the game when John Dean, Harvard punter, fumbled on his 45 yard line. Yale recovered. Bob Lassiter, the black-haired North Carolinian who has been Yale’s outstanding halfback this year, threw a pass to David Parker for a 25 yard gain. Four plays later Levering splashed through tackle for the touchdown. After that, the teams settled down to a game which was sometimes sort of exaggerated water polo. In the third period, Lassiter began to find soft spots in the right side of the Harvard line. In Yale’s 55 yard march to its second touchdown, he gained 45 yards in four rushes. In the final quarter with Yale again in Harvard territory, on fourth and ten, Lassiter tossed the soggy, slippery ball to Marking, who waded 24 yards for a touchdown. Final score: Yale 19, Harvard 0 – Yale’s most decisive win over Harvard since 1915. At the gun, Yale men rushed down and tore up their own goal posts.”
Lassiter graduated from Yale in 1934 and after a year of postgraduate study at Cambridge, enrolled at the Harvard Law School. He received his law degree in 1938 and after working for a brief time in Washington with the Treasury Department, he came home and practiced law with two highly regarded Charlotte lawyers – Claude Cochran and Frank McClenaghan. This engagement was interrupted by World War II.
Lassiter, already a licensed pilot, joined the Navy and was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola as a multi-engine flight instructor. As part of his own Navy training, he went through the American Airlines School for captains in Texas and flew commercial airliners between Fort Worth and Chicago.
After the War, airline passenger service in and out of Charlotte was not a pretty picture. Eastern Airlines had a monopoly. In June 1946, the city manager publicly complained about the lack of flights. In his words, "seating space out of Charlotte was virtually non-existent." The Charlotte News was to say later that:
"It was just about a year ago that a few far-sighted Charlotte civic leaders suddenly realized that the Queen City might have to give up her throne unless she managed to keep up with other Piedmont cities in the stiff battle for better transportation. They found, to their consternation, that Charlotte had been asleep while Columbia, Spartanburg, Greenville, Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point were waging quiet but effective campaigns for improved air service. They knew full well that if any of those cities became centers of east-west air transportation in the Piedmont, Charlotte's dominant position in the economy of the region would be seriously jeopardized . . . Energetic young Bob Lassiter, fresh out of the Navy and chock-full of ideas about aviation, was chosen to lead the fight."
The City Council formed a Municipal Aviation Commission which named the 34-year-old Lassiter its Executive Director. The Commission was charged with seeking more air service for Charlotte. The ensuing struggle would last two years.
At the time, only one person in ten trying to fly out of Charlotte was successful; six certified carriers were applying for new routes through North Carolina, but none of them proposed to stop in Charlotte. Eastern's positions were: i) that it was providing adequate service, ii) that it had insufficient equipment to provide additional service, and iii) competing carriers should not be authorized to serve Charlotte. These issues came before the Civil Aeronautics Board in hearings held in the spring of 1946 to determine whether additional Boston-New Orleans routes should be authorized.
Eastern's reluctance to provide more service was about money. For airlines, the money was in flying large planes on long hauls, uninterrupted by stops at regional airports. As to whether other airlines should be allowed to come in, Eastern argued that competition would be "ruinous" and "paralyzing." It asserted that there was "no possible justification for authorizing wasteful duplication” of its services. In explaining to the Board its interest in providing additional service to Asheville, Eastern described Asheville as "the primary gateway to one of the most popular vacation and resort areas" in the southeast as well as a major convention city.
The examiners who advised the CAB – while acknowledging a general need for more air service – were not sympathetic to Charlotte's case. They recommended two new north-south routes – which would by-pass Charlotte and stop in Asheville. Lassiter's brief described the recommendation as "timid and pitiful." In responding to Eastern's claim of insufficient numbers of aircraft, he pointed out that it had increased its total daily flights in the last twelve months from 155 to 192 while reducing Charlotte flights from 17 to 15. He also called the Board's attention to the fact that the Charlotte area was significantly more populous than many of the cities which would gain service under the examiners' recommendation such as Mobile, Richmond, Asheville, Roanoke, Lynchburg and Charlottesville.
In choosing not to follow the examiners' recommendations regarding Charlotte, the CAB gave the Queen City what it needed most: it ended Eastern's monopoly. In the words of the Charlotte News: "Through persistent activity the [Aviation Commission] was largely instrumental in influencing the CAB to authorize additional services here. Those services, already in operation or authorized, include Capital Airlines, Piedmont Airlines and Southern Airways. Commission members highly commended Mr. Lassiter for his leadership and effective service." It would be hard to overstate the significance of this victory. From that day on, Charlotte has never looked back. Today there are 670 daily national and international flights from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
In 1949 and again in 1951, Lassiter was elected from Mecklenburg to the State House of Representatives. He led the ticket in both elections. In 1954, U.S. Senator Clyde R. Hoey died. Bob Hanes, CEO of Wachovia, former president of the American Banking Association and one of the founders of the Research Triangle, asked his nephew, Bob Lassiter, if he would like to be among those considered by Governor Umstead for appointment to Hoey’s seat. Lassiter declined. The appointment went to Judge Sam Ervin. (Ervin remarked that being considered for the seat “was an honor few managed to escape” borrowing a quip from Mark Twain about his French Legion of Honor award.)
In 1949, Lassiter opened his own office in the Johnston Building in uptown Charlotte – a radical move at the time. Shortly thereafter, he teamed up with James O. Moore. They were in agreement on two principles: (a) they would practice business law in close proximity to the businessmen and banks, and (b) they would not bring clients with them from their former firms. The following year, they persuaded Lassiter’s friend from Harvard Law, Bill Van Allen, to join them and, after Van Allen was licensed in 1951, the firm became Lassiter, Moore & Van Allen.
In 1963, Winston-Salem’s P. H. Hanes Knitting Company and Hanes Hosiery Mills were planning to merge. The CEOs of those companies, P. Huber Hanes and Gordon Hanes, were first cousins of Lassiter and of each other and they believed that the new entity would run more smoothly with Lassiter on their team. Lassiter accepted their invitation and left the law firm. Starting out as Chairman of the Board of P. H. Hanes and Vice-President and General Counsel of Hanes Hosiery, he later chaired the Executive Committee of the merged entity, Hanes Corporation.
In 1968, Lassiter left Hanes and returned to Charlotte to open an office in the first NCNB Building at Tryon and Fourth. He soon became heavily involved in activities which supported UNCC and its Foundation, which he served as Trustee and as a member of its Executive Committee for ten years. He also served for a time as Chairman of the Foundation.
In collaboration with David Taylor – who chaired the UNCC Foundation for a lengthy period – Lassiter helped formulate a plan to convert a large tract owned by the University between I-85 and U.S. 29 into an asset that would produce income for the school and help to create more of a college town feel for UNCC’s fairly isolated location in north Charlotte. Lassiter chaired the Planning Committee and was named president of the corporation formed to implement the plan. The corporation borrowed money from six banks and bought additional strategically important nearby land. UNCC and its administrators and its geographers – principally E. K. Fretwell, Jim Clay, and Doug Orr – were studying successful “new town” developments from all over the world. An experienced developer – Carley Capital, from Madison, Wisconsin, was selected and the result was University City and University Place as we know them today.
An important ally and neighbor in all of this was the fast growing University Research Park, a non-profit research and technology park, which was led by CEO Seddon “Rusty” Goode (father-in-law of Ernie Reigel, former chairman of the Moore & Van Allen management committee) and Board Chair, David Taylor.
Bob Lassiter also served with distinction as:
- A director of CSX and its predecessor, Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.
- A member of the Committee which built Charlotte’s first civic center.
- A member of the State Board of Higher Education; and
- A director of both the Mint Museum and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
He died June 20, 1995. He was survived by his wife, Beth, a strong and gracious lady and a native of Seattle, whom he met while attached to the Navy’s Flight School at Pensacola, and by his daughter, Lorne and her two children. A highlight of Beth’s youth was her selection in the early 1940’s as one of the reigning beauties of Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Festival.