By Frank Ruggiero
A mountain of a man has joined the Winners Circle.
Harris Prevost, vice president of operations for Grandfather Mountain, was recognized by the state of North Carolina for his contributions to tourism.
As the recipient of the prestigious Winners Circle Award, Prevost joins the likes of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, filmmaker Frank Capra Jr., Grandfather Mountain founder Hugh Morton and numerous other luminaries.
According to the state’s tourism department, “The Winners Circle Award originated in 2004 in an effort to recognize communities, organizations, events and people in the tourism industry that have made significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina’s tourism industry.”
The award is presented annually at the Visit NC 365 Conference, known as the largest gathering of North Carolina’s tourism industry leaders. The 2018 conference was held March 4-6 in Winston-Salem, and the Winners Circle Awards were presented Monday, March 5.
Prevost has worked for Grandfather Mountain for 45 years in numerous capacities, including public relations, advertising, fundraising, civic engagement and, currently, as vice president of operations. He was nominated for the award by Mary Jaeger-Gale, general manager of Chimney Rock, past Winners Circle Award recipient and longtime friend, who introduced him at the conference.
“What I know best … about this guy is his passion for his home state, his family, golf, basketball and Grandfather Mountain and all the people he’s worked with there and for for many years,” Jaeger-Gale said. “He’s been a mentor not only to me, but probably to half of the people in this room. He’s served on more boards and committees in different capacities than most of us can name — not just in (the tourism) industry, but in his community, as well.”
That includes the N.C. Travel Industry Association, Southern Highlands Attractions, Blue Ridge Parkway Association, Cannon Memorial Hospital Foundation, Lees-McRae College Forum, Northwestern N.C. Community Development Association, N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, High Country Host, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Association Foundation, AdvantageWest, HandMade in America, Boone First Presbyterian Church and more.
“He’s contributed time and effort beyond measure,” Jaeger-Gale continued. “But he knows how to stay balanced. He always finds time to play golf, write stories, collect stamps and spend time with his children, Hillary and Tom, and his little granddaughter, Mia. His many connections are made on the golf course, in a meeting at a social function — face to face, the old fashioned, memorable way. He knows the power of networking.
“No one would ever call him a spendthrift, but he’s incredibly generous with his time and talent, and he’d give you the shirt off his back. He’s that kind of friend and colleague. This award is a long overdue recognition. If you know Harris like I know Harris, you are blessed. He is a true winner.”
And a risk-taker. After serving in the U.S. Army, Prevost bought and operated a recording studio in Fayetteville. One day, he turned on the television and saw an interview with Hugh Morton.
“What he had to say fascinated me,” Prevost said. “One of the things (my grandfather) said was by working for a good person, you can learn far more than you can ever learn out of a book. So, I said, ‘I want to work for that man.’ I wrote (Morton) a letter and told him so, and 45 years later, here I am.
“My office was next to Hugh Morton’s for 30 years. I knew him better from a business standpoint than anyone, so I listened to him, I watched how he conducted himself. My advice to you is to make sure you know who your heroes are. Also, realize that you’re a hero to somebody … so know somebody is watching you, too, just like I watched Mr. Morton. In 2004, Mr. Morton was in the first group to receive the Winners Circle Award, and so, in honor of him, I humbly, thankfully and joyfully accept this award.”
Other 2018 recipients include Dr. Dana Clark, professor of hospitality and tourism management at Appalachian State University; Chuck Hobgood, president of N.C. Amateur Sports; and Tanya Jones, founder of Mt. Airy’s Mayberry Days festival.