R. Roy Pearce | Legacy of Leadership Interview

An interview with R. Roy Pearce. Pearce discusses the qualities that are important to a person's success, how to handle challenges, and provides advice to students

R. Roy Pearce
(1919-2004)

Roy Pearce helped develop Pearce–Young–Angel, a food distribution business founded by his grandfather and father, into one of the largest businesses in South Carolina, creating thousands of jobs during the past 50 years.    

However, his most enduring gift to his native state will probably be the Roy and Marnie W. Pearce Center for Professional Communication at Clemson University. The center was established with a $1.5 million donation by Pearce and his wife in 1988 and another $250,000 to endow a professorship in professional communication. Clemson is committed to promoting effective communications throughout the university, public schools, and the business sector.    

Robert Roy Pearce was born in Columbia November 30, 1919, one of four sons of Thomas B. and Anne Tribble Pearce. He attended the Columbia public schools and in 1937 graduated from Columbia High School, where he was a student leader and star athlete. He enrolled at Clemson College and again was a student leader and football player. He was a member of the Clemson team that won the Cotton Bowl in 1940. Pearce graduated the following year.    

As a member of the ROTC at Clemson, he received his diploma and a commission as a second lieutenant the same day. In May 1942, with the nation at war, he was called to active duty. A month later, he was in England and, soon after, in combat.

Pearce participated in some of the European Theater's more memorable battles. He was awarded four Arrowhead decorations for invasions and the Bronze Star with Oakleaf Cluster. His unit was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. After World War II, Pearce returned home a lieutenant colonel.    

A civilian once again, Pearce rejoined Pearce–Young–Angel Company, or PYA, the family business for which he worked during his high school and college years. He was named vice president in 1946.

PYA grew from the consolidation of C. C. Pearce & Company, a South Carolina fresh fruit and vegetable business founded by Pearce's grandfather, and produce businesses his father operated in several South Carolina cities. In 1919, Pearce's father, Tom, became president and chief executive officer of C. C. Pearce & Company in Columbia and Pearce–Young–Angel in other South Carolina cities and merged the entire operation under the name Pearce–Young–Angel Company.    

During World War II, PYA gained experience in institutional food distribution, serving customers such as Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base. After the war, PYA began supplying hospitals, public schools, and colleges.

By 1960, when Pearce was named president and chief executive officer, half of the company's business was retail and half institutional. In 1967, PYA merged with Consolidated Foods Corporation's Monarch Institutional Foods to become PYA and Monarch and later PYA/Monarch, Inc. The merged companies managed Consolidated's entire food distribution operation throughout the United States and moved headquarters from Chicago to Greenville.    

In 1970, PYA/Monarch merged with Consolidated Foods Corporation, now Sara Lee Corporation, and Pearce was elected group vice president. In 1971, he was elected chairman and chief executive officer and a member of the board of Monarch Institutional Foods and also a member of the board of Consolidated Foods Corporation.    

As chairman and CEO of PYA/Monarch, Inc., Pearce helped establish the company as a national food distributor, increasing sales from $35 million a year to more than $2 billion, and as one of South Carolina's largest companies.

Roy Pearce retired from Sara Lee Corporation operations in 1978 and from the board of directors of Sara Lee in 1985. He was awarded the first Food Service Trailblazer Award in the United States by Institutional Food Distribution magazine.    

Today, he is chairman of the board of Budweiser of Columbia, Anderson, and Greenville, Inc., a South Carolina distributor of Anheuser–Busch beers.

Pearce served as president of the Clemson Alumni Association and the Clemson Foundation Board. He received the Clemson Distinguished Service Award in 1963, an honorary doctorate in 1986, and, in 1988, the Clemson President's Award. In 1991, he received the Clemson Medallion, the university's highest award.    

Pearce served for seven years as vice chairman of the South Carolina State Development Board. He served as president of the Columbia Rotary Club and was a director of both the Columbia and South Carolina chambers of commerce. He has received the Order of the Palmetto, the Leadership Award of the Columbia Museum of Art, and the Kirkman Finlay, Jr., Award of the Richland–Lexington Cultural Council.    

He was a member of the University of South Carolina Development Advisory Council and is a lifetime honorary alumnus of USC. He has also served as a trustee of the South Carolina Foundation of Independent Colleges and Providence Hospital Foundation and as a member of the board of Carolina Children's Home. He serves on the advisory board of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina.

He was a director of First Bank Shares of South Carolina, South Carolina National Corporation, and Sonoco Products Company.    

On February 11, 1946, he married Margery "Marnie" Ellison Walker of Columbia, and they are the parents of three daughters, Mrs. Jack Weatherford, Mrs. Ronnie Rentz, and Mrs. Sam Baroody. They have six grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and two great-grandsons.

He and his wife are members of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where he has taught Sunday school, served as a deacon for more than 10 years and as chairman of deacons and chairman of the Finance Committee for building a new sanctuary.    

Roy Pearce was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1996.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame