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Craighead never had political aspirations

By Bonnie Bucy Living Writer • Updated Jan 10, 2014 at 11:55 PM

Philip Edward Craighead had no aspirations of pursuing a political career when he was growing up. 

Coming from a family whose roots are deeply seeded in Tennessee, Craighead said he felt he had something to contribute which will help his native state and home area grow and prosper. 

In other words, he said he enjoys his job as mayor and the challenges it offers. He doesn’t see himself as a politician, but as that of a dedicated man who applies all his business skills to his adopted and beloved hometown of Lebanon so the generations to come will want and be able to stay in this area and not have to go elsewhere to earn their future.

Craighead’s parents and grandparents’ history are rooted in Smith County, mainly around the Hickman and Gordonsville areas. His grandmother was Evie Roy Craighead, and his mother’s father was Albert Temple Givatney. 

Craighead himself was born in White’s Creek, where his father served his first pastoral appointment at the Methodist Church there. From there, the family went to Chapel Hill and then Donelson Heights and Pulaski, moving around much like the military moves its personnel. He was transferred to Lebanon’s First United Methodist Church in 1969.

“I was 14 and in my last year of Babe Ruth baseball when we moved to Lebanon,” Craighead said. “While dad served as pastor at the church, he partnered with another man and the built the KOA Campground in Lebanon. That supplied my first job while I was still in school.”

Craighead attended and graduated from Lebanon High School in 1972. He went to Middle Tennessee State University, graduating in 1976 with a degree in business administration.

In 1975, Craighead’s parents moved to Columbia. He was running KOA by this time, so he moved to the campgrounds to live. A bit later, his father and Raymond Tomlinson decided to build the skating rink. Craighead managed it and the campground for several years.

“When dad was transferred even further out of this area, I didn’t want to leave Lebanon, because I love this town and county,” Craighead said. “I wanted to stay here, so I did. We had some good years. Camping was a lot simpler back then. It was tents and such then. Today, it’s motor homes, which have 60 or larger amps with slide-outs, etc. We always tried to give personalized service to our campers back then. We would meet them when they pulled in, escort them to their site and so on. We met a lot of interesting people and made a lot of friends.”

Craighead told stories about some of the things he and his father did during those years.

“In 1967, dad, a friend of his and myself went to the Canadian Expo. The next year, in 1968, we went to the Grand Canyon, where we hiked into the canyon, lunched at the bottom and climbed our way back out. We paid 35 cents for a shower, which Dad claimed was the best shower he’s ever had. Dad was not only a great preacher, but also a true man of God. He also had a sense of adventure, and we had so many great times together. He passed away a year ago on Dec, 18, 2012. His death has been a great loss to me because he meant so much to me.”

Craighead said a successful businessman was one who could make a decision on the spot with it being the right decision. He feels he has that capability and elaborated on the fastest and best decision he ever made.

“While I was running the campground, we had the swimming pool there and would give out season passes to people to come and use the facility,” said Craighead. “One year, this beautiful young lady with this beautiful daughter came to pick up a pass. Someone told me she was spoken for, so I didn’t approach her. A year later, I found I had been given wrong information, and she was available. So, I told her she could have her pass if she’d have dinner with me.

“On the Fourth of July in 1981, we had an outing with some of her friends. A bit later, she had to go to Atlanta for a gift show. She called back the next night to say she was on her way home. When she passed the campground, I had a flashing sign that read, ‘Will you marry me Darlene?’ We were married six weeks from the time we had our first date. We went to Nashville on our honeymoon and suddenly realized we hadn’t even decided where we were going to live. We cut our honeymoon short, decided to move into the blue house at the campground, so that was where we started our married life. I had never even met her parents until the wedding, but my dad performed the ceremony at First Methodist Church. Marrying Darlene. was the fastest and best decision I ever made. Now, most of my decision making is concentrated on Lebanon and what’s best for it.”

Darlene Magouirk Craighead, of Manchester, worked for Cracker Barrel at that time and was later promoted to vice president of merchandising. She and Philip have now been married for 32 years.

Craighead went on to manage or own and operate Nashville East KOA Sightseeing Tours, Inc; A&M Service, Inc.; Southern Tub & Lighting (with Darlene); Middle Tennessee Energy Systems; several restaurants; Craighead Home Sales, Inc.; and the A/C Power Group on Holloway Drive. 

“Over the course of time, I built 11 duplexes there in a year. The next year I did the first development of Crosswinds on Leeville Pike,” said Craighead. “I was involved with a combination of two or three other subdivisions, including more than 300 residential properties, several commercial properties and a total of four subdivisions. Then, there was the Riverstreet Deli restaurant on the square in Hartsville and a few others.”

Darlene started the Phoenix Group of Middle Tennessee in 1991, where they had about 40 contracts going at one time in state highway construction, and Darlene came up with a concrete improvement plan that made a standard in construction by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Before he was elected mayor, Craighead undertook a couple of projects with his son, Zachary Temple Craighead, who now heads up and runs Craighead Home Sales.

“I am so proud of both my son and my daughter, Carissa Stone Wheeler,” said Craighead. Zach has done several things, including a couple of renovations and taken Craighead Sales to a point far and beyond anything I’d ever dreamed of. Carissa works for Fleet Guard in Cookeville and travels all over the world for them.”

Craighead’s list of community service activities is long, and includes presidential or board affiliation with many development, financial and marketing associations. 

Craighead had spent more than 20 years of his life coaching baseball and softball. He did 10 years of girls softball and then 10 more years of baseball when Zach was younger.

“I enjoy seeing the younger generation maturing and what they are accomplishing,” said Craighead. “I coached so many for so long, I feel like all those kids are mine. I’m still interested in what they do and am so proud of so many of them. 

“And, I’m trying my best to build Lebanon into a city where our kids want to stay and work instead of having to go elsewhere to find work when they get out of school, and we have nothing here for them.” 

Craighead maintains no one encouraged him a few years ago, but he just felt he wanted to get more involved in Lebanon’s business and activities, so he decided to run for Lebanon City Council. He found he had missed the deadline for registration by two days, so he became a write-in candidate running against Kathy Warmath. He went all around town meeting people. He lost that round, but the resulting votes showed him he had a chance at winning something.

“I just wanted to be a part of things and wanted to help,” he said. “I felt my background would be beneficial, so I worked hard for a year to get ready.”

Then, Don Fox announced his decision not to run for Mayor again, so Craighead entered the race and went up against William Farmer.

“I was fortunate enough to get elected, but I got a whale of an education and a whole bunch of problems thrown in my face when I got into office,” he said. “It’s taken nearly five years to get things straightened out. Lebanon’s sales tax income had dropped more than $1 million. Business taxes and building was way down. There were so many things we had to get turned around. But, this will be the first year that we will start the budget process in the black. Normally, we’ve been $3 million plus short. The city has grown 28 percent from census to census, and the economy has increased, but it’s taken a lot of hard work, and we still have a lot of questions to address. 

“Thank goodness I still have three years left before my term is up, so I can concentrate on meeting more people who can create jobs. We’re getting well started with the arrival of businesses like Amazon, Starbucks, SO.F.TER, Peyton Manor, and the Toshiba Building is nearly filled up with new businesses.

“We’ve worked really hard on the sales tax referendum I’ve proposed. I truly believe we have an opportunity to restructure our revenue sources where we can lessen the burden on our citizens’ taxation by shifting our source from the citizens here in Lebanon and Wilson County to encompass the traveling public. We believe our plan will increase our income by two and a half million dollars a year.”

Craighead said the city was working on many other things to improve services like getting the utility companies ready to accept credit card and online payments. 

“We have a young, but smart, generation of kids here, and we want them to stay here. Just like Darlene’s and my grandchildren, Madison Rae Craighead, Xavier Cruz Wheeler and Miles Emerson Craighead, we want them to be able to stay in this area and have jobs so they can raise their own families. That’s one of the things we are aiming for where future generations will want to and be able to stay here.”

Craighead said April 25-26 will be the fifth annual Whip Crackin’ Rodeo that supports local charities, promotes the local economy and provides quality family entertainment.

“The four previous events  have raised more than $160,000 to help so many in Lebanon and Wilson County,” said Craighead. “For the last two years, we have included an unforgettable day filled with fun, games and excitement for special needs children. We plan to make that day even bigger and better.”

Craighead praised his sponsors, saying the event wouldn’t be possible without them. He said he has contacted all of those sponsors, and they have all committed to be back this year.

“I love my job of being mayor of Lebanon, a town I love,” he said.

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