A friend of a friend-John Barker-Bob Caton-February 7

One thing I have learned is that good friends have other good friends. This is a series of stories about “friends of my friends”. The post below is the story for February 7, 2015.

My goal in 2015 is to learn or get re-acquainted with 365 people and doing a daily post on the “the friend of a friend” is helping me get closer to my goal.

I have a long friendship with Bob Caton. Today the friendship is linked to common friends, a great university, our community, and college athletics. In the beginning of our friendship it was about beer.

For those that are from Robeson County or have ties to it you know the name Bob Caton. The state of the art football field house at UNC Pembroke is named in his honor. UNCP began playing football in fall 2007. As a current UNCP Board of  Trustee and former member of the Football Advisory Committee, Bob has supported UNCP Football from the start.

Bob has many ties to college football. He is a former member of Florida State University’s football team, he is former president of the Seminole Athletic Booster Club (2008-09). On top of that he has a 35-year relationship with UNCP and its athletic programs.  Bob was one of the early supporters of the UNCP Braves Club, UNCP’s athletic booster organization, Caton and his wife, Faye, are lifetime members of the Chancellors Club. They also have established a need-based endowed scholarship for students from Robeson County.

Bob grew up in Miami, Florida and he and Faye, the former Faye Carden of Thomaston Ga., have been married 45 plus years. They have two grown children, Karen Granger, who works at UNCP and a son, Bob Jr., who lives in Atlanta, Ga. They have four adorable grandchildren.

Bob is the former owner of Eagle Distributing Company of Lumberton, NC and that business today is called R.A Jeffreys. When Eagle Distributing opened in 1978, their warehouses distributed Anheuser Busch products in Robeson County, along with Hanson Energy Drinks and Negro-Modello, Corona and Pacifico brands. From its 24,000-square-foot facility, Eagle was one of 30 U.S. distributors serving 30 wholesalers in the Carolinas for Anheuser Busch. The beer business has changed since Bob got started but one thing he always provided was customer service and that is how I first met him.

In 1985 a couple of things were occurring simultaneously. One Robeson County specifically Lumberton was starting to loosen up their rules on beer sales. They were allowing restaurants to serve draft beer. Second my family was moving from Jackson County, NC to Lumberton so I could become the Head Basketball Coach at UNC Pembroke. That move included relocating my second year anniversary gift. That gift from my wife Mira was a homemade kegerator. I didn’t make a lot of money as an Assistant Basketball Coach at WCU but I had lots of friends because of the kegerator.

Before we moved from Cullowhee, NC we reached out to a big Western Carolina University supporter who happened to own the Budweiser Beer Distributorship in Asheville, NC. In Cullowhee we had to find a package store that would sell kegs and go get them and bring them home. A keg is heavy and Mira bribed college students to help lift the keg into the house in exchange for beer tastings.

We asked the Asheville Distributor who we could call and he said let me make a call to a friend of mine in Lumberton. He called Bob Caton and we became one of his earliest draft beer customers.

The reaction to being allowed to sell draft beer in Lumberton was not embraced immediately. Businesses were hesitant because of the fear that the preacher on Sunday might chastise a restaurant’s decision to serve draft beer. Sales were slow at first. In essence kegs were not rolling out of Eagle Distributing the first month of the law

At first I didn’t have direct contact with Bob but his wonderful sales manager Phillip Hamilton. He worked it out where we got the keg delivered to our home. Mira didn’t have to bribed college students with taste testings anymore.

The first two weeks we purchased three kegs because of two big parties we were hosting at our house. Usually a keg would last us 4-6 weeks.  Many years later Phillip Hamilton told me a story about Bob Caton conducting a sales review meeting during that two-week period. Bob was super organized and very driven and he wanted sales data on the impact of the law in Robeson County to sell draft beer.

Phillip said when they pulled up the chart the #2 customer listing for Eagle Distributing Keg Sales was Dan & Mira Kenney. Bob wanted to know where our business was located and Phillip told him the story. I am happy to report that Mira and I never made Eagle Distributing # 10 list again but we have Bob on our top 10 list as a great friend.

A friend of Bob’s who introduced me to crawfish was John Barker. John and another successful businessman David Walker back in the 1980’s used to host a crawfish boil. It was huge and they contracted out to some men from Louisiana that brought everything to either the NC Armory on Fayetteville Rd or Bill Sapp Recreational Center. If there wasn’t 500 people who attended these events I would be shocked.

John Barker like Bob has done a lot for our community.

The Friend BOB CATON-depicted below with wife Faye

Bob Faye Caton

The Friend of the Friend-JOHN BARKER sitting and wife Bunny

John and Bunny Barker

Bob Caton on John Barker

John Barker graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1967 with a political science degree. He and his wife Bunny are some of our dearest friends. John is the former president and chief executive officer of Triangle Ice Inc. He was in the retail banking after he graduated from Carolina, then purchased Triangle Ice, a producer and distributor of bagged ice, in 1976.

I was starting my business-Eagle Distributing in Lumberton shortly after that in 1978. John sold his business in 2003 to Reddy Ice of Dallas, Texas, the largest U.S. maker of packaged ice. I sold my business to R.A Jeffreys in 2007.

John grew up on a tobacco farm in Robeson County. He has always been a person that has quietly found ways to give back to his alma mater and the community. John Barker has served Robeson County in a lot of great ways including public school education in Robeson County. He has held various school board posts, including chairman of the Lumberton City School System and interim chairman of the consolidated Public Schools of Robeson County.

He has also been the former chairman of the board of trustees of Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton. In 2014 he and his wife Bunny Co-Chaired the Southeastern Health Gala which raised lots of money for our community.

When you become a businessman you meet lots of talented people doing what you do just in different ventures. Faye and I are lucky to have crossed paths with the Barker’s. They have become lifelong friends. I hope everyone is as lucky as us when it comes to good friends.


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