Silver Moon Drive-In Owner Harold Spears Dies at 87

Harold SpearsHarold Truman Spears Jr., a theater company executive who bought Lakeland’s 1940s-era Silver Moon Drive-In after his company told him to close it, died Sunday of multiple myeloma at age 87.

An Atlanta native and former Marine, Spears moved to Lakeland in 1959 while working for Floyd Theaters, eventually becoming president and CEO of Floyd Enterprises, which owned a theater chain and bottling companies.

Spears formed Sun South Theatres Inc. in 1996 to purchase and operate Silver Moon and two other drive-ins after a successor to Floyd told him to close them.

Spears saw drive-in theaters as a bastion of affordable family entertainment that could continue to survive as long as they were well managed.

“I felt there was a place in America for drive-ins, still do,” Spears told the San Francisco Chronicle nearly a decade ago. “There are a lot of folks around here who can’t afford the indoor theaters. If we close, where’ll they go for entertainment?”

Cleanliness, he told the reporter, was a sign of respect for customers, blaming the demise of other drive-in movie theaters on management that ceased to care. “Too many owners just let their drive-ins go to hell, to tell you the truth.”

Spears continued to invest in the business, spending $200,000 in 2011 to convert to digital projection and sound.

“I’m not planning to retire,” Spears told The Ledger in a 2015 feature that noted he was still directing traffic or selling tickets nearly every weekend. “As long as I’m vertical, I’ll be here. I enjoy the business. I enjoy entertaining our customers.”

A pilot who owned and flew a Cessna 310P, Spears made the news in 2015 when an electric malfunction forced him to make an emergency landing in Waycross, Ga., without his landing gear fully down.

He was on his way to Athens, Ga., that fall day, no doubt to see his beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs. He had graduated in 1951 from UGA, where he captained the golf team and won the SEC championship in 1949.

According to a family-placed obituary, Spears is survived by Betty Bowden Spears, his wife of 66 years; daughters Anne Spears Powell (John), Carol Spears Sawyer (Pete); granddaughters Lauren Powell Kopilash (Mike), Haley Sawyer; grandsons Chip Sawyer and Wade Powell; great-grandsons Caiden and Blake Kopilash.

A memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church on Friday at 2 p.m.