Herschel Gilbert, manager of the theater, searched through the debris until he found the safe, and he was able to make payroll for everyone except himself. Then Gilbert went to his boss, Carl Patrick, to report on what had happened.
When Patrick learned the manager hadn't paid himself, he reached into his pocket.
"Take this until I can get you the rest," he told the man, pressing a $20 bill into his hand. And while that might not seem like a lot of money in 2007, it was a third of the manager's pay in ’53.
That's the one story that John Gilbert has about Carl Patrick. It's the one that his father, the man who combed the wreckage for the safe, knew best.
Those who knew him well said Patrick was a stern man, with a shrewd mind and acumen for business. But he knew that there were times to give — from the $20 in his pocket to more than $1.5 million he gave to St. Francis Hospital over the past 13 years.
That he had that kind of money to donate give at all is a large part of what will go down in legends about the movie theater mogul, who died Wednesday at age 88, of complications from a heart condition. "This is a fairy tale story, no doubt about it," Carl Patrick Jr. said. "A classic American success story."
Rags to riches
He was born to a poor family in a tiny western Virginia town called Honaker, and his family moved to Maryland when he was 6. Four years later, his father died, and by age 16 he had graduated high school and was working as a full-time steel man with Baltimore's Bethlehem Steel Corp.
He enlisted into the Army in April 1941, at the age of 22. He was in training as a paratrooper, which is brought him to Fort Benning. There he met a beauty queen named Frances Wynn, who was Miss Georgia Southwestern 1942.
A year later the two married, and, after a serious injury in Sicily, he returned to the States. In 1945, out of the Army with the rank of major, he wanted to return to the steel company.
"He wanted to go back to that job he had in Baltimore, which was foreman at Bethlehem Steel, which was a pretty good job in those days,"Carl Patrick Jr. said.
But his wife convinced him to stay, and he got a job with Martin Theaters, working for Frances' uncle, Roy Martin.
It proved to be a fruitful decision.
"Old Roy Martin liked him," said Carl Patrick Jr., who is one of two sons. By 1969, Patrick became president of the chain, and when it was bought by a larger company, Fuqua Industries, he eventually was elected president and CEO of that company, too.
n 1982, he and his sons bought the Martin theaters back from Fuqua, dubbing them Carmike Cinemas — for the sons, Carl and Mike. His years as movie mogul brought him in touch with stars and high-ranking officials, including Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who flew on his private jet.
Today Carmike boasts 283 theaters and 2,427 screens., and Mike Patrick is president and CEO of the chain.
Patrick might have found success no matter what field he entered, friends said.
"From his beginning, he was determined to get ahead. He was determined," Mary Pierson said. She and her husband, C.L. Pierson, became friends with the Patricks in the early 1960s, when the families carpooled together.
"He was a person who thought everything through. He didn't take snap judgment. There was a purpose for everything he did. He never did anything unless he had a reason to do it," Mary Pierson said. "Or Frances made him do it."
Stubborn but giving
He ate out three meals a day, typically having breakfast at Ruth Ann's, lunch at the Columbus Country Club and dinner at any number of restaurants.
"He was a person who wanted to see and be seen. He wanted to stand out at the table," Mary Pierson said. And of the routine: "He was a person set in his ways."
He was so set about meals that even hospital stays, which had become frequent in recent years, couldn't change them, said Mac Plummer, vice president of the St. Francis Foundation. St. Francis named its new heart treatment facility the Patrick Heart Institute.
"People were always kidding me about this, but about three years ago I go into the room where he's staying and both he and Ms. Frances have both got these long faces," Plummer said. When Plummer asked what was wrong, Frances Patrick answered.
"Well, he's hungry and he doesn't like what you have to offer," she said.
"He wanted his beef vegetable soup from the Country Club," Plummer said. "So I went to the Country Club and got it for him."
His stubbornness was tempered by his philanthropy, friends said. He gave money to the Army Infantry Center,Columbus Museum, Columbus Technical College, Georgia Southwestern State University, and other businesses and causes.
His philanthropy came sometimes with a sense of humor, though.
When he deeded property to Columbus Tech — it was, in fact, the old Rexview Theater land, where the tornado struck in 1953 — it was a gentle thumbing of his nose at to universities.
"He never graduated, never went to college," Carl Patrick Jr. said. "He thought electricians and plumbers, well, those were very respectable occupations."
Nevertheless: "He wanted me to go to college because he didn't have that opportunity," the son said. "He wanted us to have the opportunities he didn't have.
“But he kidded us about it. He used to say, ‘my overeducated sons.’ ”
The senior Patrick died in his home, of complications from heart medicine he'd been taking, Carl Patrick Jr.said. A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. today at St. Luke United Methodist Church.