Dude Mattox passes away; Mayor reflects on his father’s life

Ramsey "Dude" Mattox

Altavista lost another well-loved and prominent citizen this weekend when Ramsey “Dude” Mattox passed away at the age of 84. Dude was known for his restaurant, Dude’s Drive-in on Main Street in Altavista. He was also known for his friendly and personable disposition.

“My father had a very outgoing personality. He loved to laugh. He was very well-liked; he would stop and talk to just about anyone,” recalled his son, Altavista Mayor Mike Mattox. “He had numerous friends all over the area; he also had a number of close friends that I considered to be like uncles.”

Ramsey “Dude“ Mattox was born in Hurt in 1935 and grew up on a farm in Pittsylvania County, together with eight brothers and sisters. “With his upbringing, he developed a great work ethic, which he passed along to us,” Mike noted.

“He was an entrepreneur who started Dude’s in the 1960s. He and my mother Patsy worked hard to make the business successful. They were good, hard-working people.” Both Mike and his brother, Gary, followed in their father’s footsteps and started their own businesses. They also both hold positions in local government; Gary represents the Altavista district on the Campbell County School Board.

Mike recounted growing up with the good upbringing his parents provided. “Growing up on Melinda Drive, it was like the Wonder Years, hearing my mother call us in the house at dusk. I had a great childhood, with nothing but good memories. My sister [Beth Browning] will always be our Dad’s little girl.”

The mayor shared fond memories growing up, noting “My father and my mother made me the person I am today. We each in our own way loved our Dad, and he loved all of his children.”

Dude, a fan of Western movies and programs such as Gunsmoke, liked to portray a western persona; “he had a big pipe, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat,” (see, for instance, the cowboy hat logo on the sign at the former Dude’s Drive-in, at what is now Main Street Buffet). “My Dad sort of held court at the counter at Dude’s. It seated about 12 to 14 people. They were good times.”

He recounted how he and his brother had chores and would help out on Saturday mornings at the family business. “I remember we were talking once about how we missed out on watching Saturday morning cartoons, but then we said we didn’t need cartoons because we had our dad and his friends down at the restaurant.” They were so entertaining that it made up for anything the boys might have missed. “He had a playful personality; he enjoyed life.

“Going to work at the restaurant allowed us to interact with adults. We learned people, and we had a network of support all our lives. People would say, are you Dude Mattox’s son? His reputation went before us and opened doors.”

Dude owned horses, and Mike recalls his father having the two boys go to the horse farm to pick up rocks. “He would come by and bring us lunch, and then we would go back to work. But when he was gone, we were actually playing in the creek,” he laughed.

“It was a good upbringing; good, but strict. We grew up in the era of long hair, and I remember a few times he sent us back to the barber shop, because we didn’t get our hair cut short enough.”

Mike recalls, “Dad was in the military and was in Airborne. He used to say to my brother and me that we weren’t tough enough to be Airborne. So we went off and took parachuting lessons and actually jumped out of a plane. We wanted to prove to him that we were as tough as he was. My brother and I would always take the challenge.”

Dude and Cathy later divorced, and he remarried, and he and his second wife, Elva, were married for 34 years. They lived for a time in Boone, NC, where they owned Foscoe Equestrian Center, a horse farm. He loved horses, dogs, and other animals, as well as gardening, the mountains, and rescuing animals.

Dude and Elva eventually moved back to the area and lived in Gretna. He was a member of New Prospect Baptist Church in Hurt. He was staying at Autumn Care at the time of his passing.

“I was lucky to have him as my Dad. He helped make me into the person I am today,” Mike concluded.