The retired CEO saved an Atlanta public hospital

Pete Correll learned responsibility early on helping his mother run a men’s clothing store in Brunswick, Georgia, after his father died from alcoholism.

He made his career running paper mills and in 1993 became CEO of Georgia-Pacific Corp., a pulp, paper, plywood and plasterboard manufacturer. Because construction products went from boom to boom, he wanted more products with more stable demand. In 2000, the company acquired the maker of Quilted Northern bathroom tissue and Brawny paper towels.

Mr. Correll happily embraced his role as “toilet paper king”. His standard joke: “Toilet paper is a wonderful product. Ninety-eight percent of the American public uses it.

He led Georgia-Pacific through years of asbestos liability litigation and agreed to sell the company for $ 13.2 billion to Koch Industries Inc. in 2005. The following year he took over his retirement as president.

His next project was to organize a rescue of Grady Memorial Hospital, serving the poor and uninsured of the Atlanta area on the brink of bankruptcy. First, Mr. Correll had to persuade black leaders that the 2008 reorganization, involving the creation of a not-for-profit company, would not deprive the poor of services. Then he helped raise $ 300 million to modernize dilapidated equipment and facilities. He was president of Grady for eight years.

Mr. Correll, who had cancer, died on May 25 at his home in Atlanta. He was 80 years old.

In a 2008 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. Correll recalled a visit to Grady that shook him. Patients on stretchers languished in grimy hallways. The graphics were handwritten and duplicated with carbon paper. “It was like going back 30 years,” he said.

Mr. Correll later discussed the public hospital financial crisis over drinks with a friend, Tom Bell, a real estate developer. They decided that someone should save the hospital. “After a few more drinks,” Mr. Correll said, “we decided it would be us.”

One of his ideas was to pressure other hospitals in the Atlanta area to support Grady. Wealthier suburban hospitals, he said, would be in “deep dog shit” if they were forced to take care of Grady’s uninsured patients. The financial rescue he helped lead involved a change in the management of the hospital from people appointed by politicians to a new nonprofit corporation.

Alston Dayton Correll Jr., an only child known as Pete, was born on April 28, 1941 and raised in Brunswick. His father, who had been a manager of JC Penney Co. before opening his own men’s clothing store, died when Pete was 12. His mother, Elizabeth, took over the struggling store with the help of her son. They discovered that much of what they believed to be inventory consisted of empty boxes on shelves.

“We were bankrupt and were too stupid to know it,” Mr. Correll said in a statement to read at his funeral, “So Mother and I started paying all of our bills and running a men’s store.” Experience, he added, “has taught me a lot about the value of cash, which business students never understand.”

Mr. Correll began his education at Georgia Tech, dropped out and worked briefly at the New York Stock Exchange, where he issued purchase orders to traders. He then enrolled at the University of Georgia, majored in business, and met Ada Lee Fulford, who was working on a degree in education. They married in 1963.

He was planning a career in retail and working as a manager at a Penney store. Sensing better opportunities, he joined a pulp and paper mill as a supervisor. He then enrolled at the University of Maine and obtained a master’s degree in pulp and paper technology.

He worked for Weyerhaeuser Co.

and Mead Corp. before joining Georgia-Pacific as senior vice president for pulp and paper printing in 1988.

After he became CEO, a local magazine published a photo of him riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He wore blue jeans when he visited Georgia-Pacific factories.

One of the challenges was that few outsiders knew what the company was doing. A hotel clerk, upon hearing that Mr. Correll ran Georgia-Pacific, praised him for running “a damn good railroad.”

Meanwhile, lawyers have focused on asbestos exposure potentially caused by Georgia-Pacific products made decades earlier. Mr. Correll called the long battle over asbestos “the most frustrating thing that has happened in my business career”.

Another source of angst was the cyclical nature of the construction products industry and the resulting fluctuations in the value of Georgia-Pacific shares. “One year you are the most admired leadership team in North America,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001. “The next year you are the most hated and you don’t did nothing other than the price of the plywood. fell by half.

Mr. Correll is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ada Lee, two children and five grandchildren.

His philanthropic priorities were education and health care, including the University of Georgia and the Grady Memorial Hospital.

Golf was his game, and he saw it as a metaphor for life. “When you’re done you post a score,” he said, “and only you know if it’s the right score.”

Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]

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