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Furniture Statesman and Virginia Benefactor J. Clyde Hooker Dies

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J. Clyde Hooker Jr.

J. Clyde Hooker Jr., furniture industry statesman, community benefactor, decorated World War II veteran and the visionary leader of Hooker Furniture from 1960 until 2000, died July 12 at the age of 89.

"With Clyde gone, an era has passed, and a void is left in the industry that will never, ever be filled," said Melvin Wolff, chairman of Star Furniture in Houston, Texas. Wolff was one of many industry and community friends and admirers who reflected on the incomparable life of Hooker.

One of the only remaining leaders from Americas golden industrial age and patriarch of one of the first families of the Virginia furniture industry, Hookers personal involvement with the company that bore his name began at the age of four, when he blew the steam whistle to signal the first work day in January 1925.

Born December 20, 1920, he was the son of Hooker Furniture founder J. Clyde Hooker Sr. and of Mabel Bassett Hooker, the daughter of Charles Bassett, one of the founders of Bassett Furniture. Until 1951, the name of the company was Hooker-Bassett Company.

After he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Virginia Military Institute in 1942, he served with the renowned Third Army in the European Theater of World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star, three campaign stars and was discharged with the rank of Captain in 1946. A few months later, he went to work at Hooker Furniture, starting in the factory to learn the manufacturing process before working in the Martinsville headquarters as assistant sales manager. In 1956, he was named sales manager.

When he was elected president in 1960, the company had 375 employees, $4.4 million in sales and $170,000 of net income. Upon his retirement in 2000, the company had 2000 employees, over $250 million in sales and $15 million in net income. Known as an innovator, Hooker kept his company in the forefront of manufacturing advances and of trends in entertainment and office furniture. Under his leadership, Hooker Furniture was one of the first companies to import specialty furniture products over 20 years ago. Along with Mabel Bassett Hooker, Clyde was instrumental in establishing the Hooker Educational Foundation that provides scholarships to children and spouses of employees of Hooker and its subsidiaries.
Within the furniture industry, Hooker served as President of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Assn. (now the American Home Furnishings Alliance) and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Dallas Market Center. There are scholarships in his name at both High Point University and his alma mater VMI. 

"Clyde had a significant, positive impact on so many peoples lives in this company, in our industry and our community," said Paul Toms Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Hooker. "No matter how you define a life well lived, Clyde achieved extraordinary success. But most important was his impact on others. He was a mentor, friend and father figure to generations," said Toms, who is Hookers nephew.

Hooker's numerous awards included The Pillar of the Industry Award from the International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn. in 1977, the James T. Ryan Award for Industry Leadership in 1985 and induction into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 1997. He also received the Distinguished Service Award from the VMI Foundation in 1993 and the Key to the City of Martinsville in 2000. An Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster, Hooker received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.

"First and foremost, Clyde Hooker was a gentleman," said Richard Moore, vice presidentfurniture, for Dilliards department store. Moore, who has known Hooker since 1976 "when I started buying knee hole desks from him," said he "always looked forward to going into the Hooker showroom to see Clyde. Clyde made it easy and comfortable to do business."

Concurs Doug Brackett, the retired  executive vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. and its predecessor the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Assn., "Clyde  was always kind."  Brackett, who witnessed Hooker in action at more than a few intense executive meetings, observed, "He had a way of getting his point across strongly without offending anyone."

"By any measure, Clyde Hooker was one of the top leaders in the history of the furniture industry," Brackett said.

Irv Blumkin, chairman of top furniture retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart, agrees. "Clyde was a legend of heroic proportions in this business. He has been a great friend of the Blumkins and the Mart and the industry, and we have nothing but the utmost respect and affection for him."

Tom Word, an attorney in Richmond, Va., is writing a book about the heroes of Virginia and has devoted a chapter to Clyde Hooker. "He is the strongest team builder I have ever observed, Word said. He has built the most admired leadership team in the furniture industry."

Hooker was able to attract good people in part because of a magnetic personality and a genuine interest in people. "Clyde wasnt the kind of leader that the factory workers avoided when he walked through the plant. Instead, they were drawn to him," said John Bassett III, chairman of Vaughn-Bassett Furniture. Bassett and Hooker are double first cousins once removed. Their grandfathers were the Bassett brothers who founded Bassett Furniture, and they married sisters from the Lane Furniture family. Clyde's community, city, county, country and employees all benefitted from his contribution and the standard for excellence he set, he said.

Bassett continued, "But do you know what Clyde would tell us if he could? He would say, Its time for you all to get on with the work now."

Hooker is survived by his wife Katherine Bridgforth Hooker; a daughter, Katherine H. Boaz, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Family members involved in the furniture industry include Toms and his grandson Phil Garrett, who is national sales manager at Hooker Furniture.

The funeral will be Thursday, July 15 at noon at the First United Methodist Church, 146 East Main St. in Martinsville. Visitation will be Wednesday evening at First United Methodist Church from 5 to 8 p.m.

Designated charities for memorial gifts include the Hooker Educational Foundation, P.O. Box 4708, Martinsville, Va. 24115; the Martinsville Henry County SPCA at 132 Joseph Martin Highway, Martinsville, Va. 24112; The Buddy Bryan VMI Foundation, P.O. Box 932, Lexington, Va. 24450 and the First United Methodist Church, 146 East Main St., Martinsville, Va. 24112.

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