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Pizza Hut of East Texas owner Ernie Stith dies at 75

By Ken Hedler
Dec. 27, 2017 at 1:25 p.m.
Updated Dec. 27, 2017 at 1:25 p.m.

Ernie Stith  now owns 15 Pizza Huts in a territory that extends south to Palestine, north to Atlanta, west to Gun Barrel City and east to Marshall. It includes three stores in Longview and one apiece in Kilgore, Gladewater, White Oak and Gilmer.

Ernest James “Ernie” Stith, the soft-spoken businessman who began his Pizza Hut franchise in Longview in 1967 and saw it grow to 15 area locations, died Tuesday from injuries sustained in a car wreck 10 days earlier.

Stith, 75, was injured after his car went off the road and flipped over on Bill Owens Parkway, Longview police spokesman Sgt. Shane McCarter said.

Stith’s family members declined Wednesday to comment about his death.

Bill Bussey, founder of the Great Texas Balloon Race, praised Stith for his involvement in the event, which he chaired in 1997.

“He did an awfully good job (at the race) as a chairman ..., and he truly loved the balloon race and all aspects of it,” Bussey said.

Bussey said Stith was a successful businessman and a good family man, and he thought about the future.

Stith’s death came two months after Stith was recognized for his longevity with the Pizza Hut company. He was among a handful of franchise holders nationwide with 50 or more years of ownership

Stith attributed his longevity to hiring a good management team. Some of his managers had worked with him for decades.

During an interview with the Longview News-Journal in October, Stith said he started working at Pizza Hut in Dallas while attending North Texas State University. After being on the job for three years, he decided to quit school and open his first franchise in Longview in 1967.

“One of my bosses asked me to come here with a partner,” Stith recalled. “I came here with three partners.”

He opened his first restaurant on East Marshall Avenue.

Since then, Stith expanded to 15 restaurants in an area extending south to Palestine, north to Atlanta, west to Gun Barrel City and east to Marshall. It includes three restaurants in Longview and one apiece in Gladewater, Kilgore, White Oak and Gilmer.

Stith opened his most recent Pizza Hut in 2015 in White Oak.

Stith also was an avid golfer and hunter and served on the board of directors for the Gladewater Rodeo. He was a past president of the Longview Convention and Visitors Bureau, received the Paul Harris Award from the Rotary Foundation International and was inducted into the Hall of Honor for the Texas Restaurant Association.

Funeral services are 2 p.m. Friday at Rader Funeral Home in Longview with burial in Rosewood Park.

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