When word spread Monday about the death of Paul Bales, friends, family and others he touched in his long life of service remembered him for his humor, his quick smile and all the ways he worked for the people of Blount County.
In particular, he was remembered as chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund, a collaboration begun in 1952 by The Daily Times and the group now known as the Blount County Jaycees.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, vice president of the Empty Pantry Fund, was a personal friend of Paul Bales for many years.
“Paul was the face and lifeblood of the Empty Pantry for 60 years. He was responsible for making sure thousands of families had food for Christmas. … I have never known anyone that cared more about giving to those in need than Paul, and people from all over Blount County from all walks of life loved Paul and he loved them.
“Blount County and I have lost a truly great friend that we could always count on no matter what we needed. It is hard to think about the Empty Pantry and Christmas without seeing Paul’s smiling face and hearing his infectious laughter. So many people will miss him. I know I sure will miss him dearly,” Mitchell said.
Lon Fox, president of the Empty Pantry Fund and also a personal friend of Bales, said, “Paul Bales will always be remembered as the chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund.”
Bales, who retired as advertising major accounts executive at The Daily Times in 2009, began his career at The Daily Times as a paper carrier in the early 1950s when he was a high school student. Even at that young age, the irrepressible Bales showed his work ethic and expertise in sales. In a 2009 story announcing his retirement, he spoke of doing so well at building his paper route that he was given other opportunities to work at the newspaper in addition to working several other jobs and attending high school.
Bales said he wanted to be a cartoonist, and when he saw an advertisement for a mail-in art course Bales, still in high school, saved his money and enrolled in the course. “I could draw the bottom of characters real good, but I could never get the head in perspective the way it ought to be,” he was quoted as saying in 2009. “There was another course in there in advertising, so I took that course.”
When he graduated from that course, the publisher of The Daily Times asked Bales to create an advertisement using several components he would be given. Bales completed the test and was told, “Congratulations. You are now a member of the advertising department,” where he was employed until his retirement.
Quentin Anthony worked closely with Bales in The Daily Times Advertising Department and succeeded him as major accounts executive. He said, “Paul was one of a kind! He would literally give you the shirt off his back if he saw you needed it. He was the face of the Empty Pantry Fund, and even though he has been retired for numerous years, we still had people call every year and ask for Paul Bales for help here at The Daily Times.”
Carl Esposito, publisher of The Daily Times, agreed.
“Paul was one of the most kind, caring and considerate people I’ve ever known. His dedication to The Empty Pantry Fund and the many people it has served over the years is unprecedented, and I know it all came straight from his heart.”
Life of service
Bales started his community service at the age of 6. He lived in the Alnwick community of Blount County and would take his dog to visit the residents of the Blount County Poor Farm, where William Blount High School stands today. He’d also take his earnings from picking strawberries and buy cookies for the residents.
A turning point in Bales’ life came when he was invited to attend a meeting of the Maryville/Alcoa Jaycees by one of the members. He told the man he wasn’t interested in joining, then asked, “What do the Jaycees do?” He was told, “They help people,” and Bales was convinced to attend a meeting, where he was soon taken under the wings of the older men. They watched over Bales and encouraged him.
“They gave me an application to fill out, and all of a sudden, I was chairman of the Empty Pantry Fund,” Bales was quoted as saying. “That was in 1954.”
The Empty Pantry Fund was chaired by Bales until 2011, when he decided to step down for health reasons. The organizational format then changed to a board composed of volunteers, and Lon Fox was named president of the annual charity in which needy Blount County citizens can sign up to receive foods at Christmas. Fox said, “I still don’t understand how one person did what it takes seven people to do now.” But Bales did it.
Bales’ own participation didn’t end with stepping down as chairman, however. He was involved in both packing and delivering the foods even as late as Christmas 2018. It was, he always said, the highlight of his Christmas.