Nashville now and then: Endings and beginnings

Bullets terminate a business partnership, the other important healthcare enterprise founded in 1968, and more...
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A deadly encounter

Between the two gunshots that shocked the world in 1968, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Robert F. Kennedy in June, on May 24, 1968, three shots from a .38 caliber pistol ended the life of W. Haynie Gourley. The killing is arguably the most talked-about murder in the history of Nashville business.

Gourley, founder of Nashville's Capitol Chevrolet auto dealership, was in a car with vice president Bill Powell when, at a red light, an African-American man jumped into their car, demanded money, and began shooting wildly. Or so said Powell, who sustained a leg wound. Gourley died instantly.

Detectives would spend months trying to crack the case, working from the meager details Powell gave them. One African-American was arrested immediately, but he had an alibi. Another was arrested later and identified by Powell in a lineup, but the suspect proved he was in California at the time.

Eventually, the focus of the investigation shifted as authorities examined the business relationship between Powell and Gourley. On March 27, 1969, the Davidson County Grand Jury would indict Bill Powell on a charge of first-degree murder. The ensuing legal maneuvers, involving such top local lawyers as John Jay Hooker Sr., Cecil Branstetter and Jack Norman, would mesmerize the city. Every thrust and parry of prosecution and defense would merit a front-page story.

After only brief deliberation, however, the jury would acquit Powell. "I was innocent, and I knew I was innocent all the time," Powell recalled when the Nashville Banner asked him about the case after the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson on murder charges. The jurors, he said, "did their job then as they did with O.J. today."

Haynie Gourley's murder remains unsolved.

A moment of healthcare history

Three days before Gourley's murder, the unheralded filing of a charter with Tennessee's Secretary of State marked the corporate birth of General Care Corp. The name has been gone from Nashville's corporate landscape for decades now, but General Care was one of the cornerstones of the city's healthcare industry.

Earlier in May, during a fateful meeting at Woodmont Country Club, the physicians of Park View Hospital had voted to go along with a plan to make their facility the flagship of a chain to be known as Hospital Corp. of America. General Care was no copy-cat, starting out initially as a small nursing home chain, but it would morph into a hospital company and go public in 1970.

In 1980, HCA bought General Care in a $78 million cash deal. In a life-cycle that has become so familiar on Nashville's healthcare scene, the end of one company would lead to the creation of another, and another, and another.

Joel Gordon, founding president and vice-chairman of General Care, would create outpatient specialist Surgical Care Affiliates Inc. in 1982, take it public, sell out to HealthSouth in 1995 and then step in as interim chairman of the latter company during its time of troubles in 2003-2004. Surgical Care would also spin out its managed care unit, Healthwise of America, into a publicly traded company in 1993, and United HealthCare would plunk down $290 million for that business in 1996, with Gordon taking home an ample share of that pot.

General Care Chief Operating Officer Charlie Martin, meanwhile, would go on to hold senior positions at HCA and its rural-hospital spinoff HealthTrust Inc. before founding OrNda HealthCorp. That venture would grow from revenue of $450 million to $3 billion in four years to become the nation’s third largest investor-owned hospital management company. After selling OrNda, Martin would create Vanguard Health Systems Inc., the hospital company he runs today.

Moving money to make money

One more beginning of note: Nashville's PMT Services Inc. filed for its initial public offering on May 18, 1994, seeking to raise $24.8 million to fund the rapid growth of its payment processing network.

Founders Greg Daily and Rich Roberts had started their company with less than $2,000 in capital in 1984, when both were in their mid-20s. It would last four years as a public company before it sold out to Atlanta-based Nova Information Systems Inc. for $1.3 billion in 1998. Daily would go on to found iPayment Inc., taking it public and then private again between 2003 and 2005.

Roberts would build Verus Financial Management, his next credit- and debit-card processing company, into a business worth $325 million to British accounting and business software giant Sage Group, which bought it in January 2006.

The hallowed honeydo

Today's closer: A glimpse of domestic life in Nashville, as lived this week in 1882:

A Startled Husband

A Broad-street merchant's wife yesterday gave him the following letter, with instructions that it should not be opened until he got to his place of business: "I am forced to tell you some-thing that I know will trouble you, but it is my duty to do so. I am determined you shall know it, let the result be what it may. I have known for a week that this trial was coming, but kept it to myself until today, when it has reached a crisis and I cannot keep it any longer.

"You must not censure me too harshly, for you must reap the benefits as well as myself. I do hope it won't crush you.

"The flour is all out. Please send me some this afternoon. I thought that by this method you would not forget it."

The husband telephoned forthwith for a barrel of the best flour in the market to be sent to his home instanter. (Nashville Daily American, May 20, 1882)

"Nashville now and then" is a week-by-week look back at Nashville's economic, political and social history. Your thoughts, suggestions and questions are always welcome — leave them in the comments section below, or e-mail