Frederick B. Dent | Legacy of Leadership Profile

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A profile of Frederick Baily Dent.

Frederick B. Dent
(Born August 17, 1922)

In the fall of 1973, a reporter for Nation's Business wrote of Secretary of Commerce Frederick B. Dent:

"Despite a soft Southern accent and an affable demeanor which fits the popular image of a Southern gentleman, Secretary Dent was born in Cape May, N.J., and raised in Greenwich, Conn. He is Ivy League in dress."

A Spartanburg resident since 1947, Dent is every bit a Southern gentleman, one of the state's most respected business leaders, and, having met the challenge of adapting from the culture of New England to that of the Deep South, he has always been a friend to newcomers to Spartanburg—and they've come from throughout the world.    

Frederick Baily Dent was born August 17, 1922, in Cape May, New Jersey, the son of Magruder Dent and Edith Baily Dent. When he was about 3 years old, the family moved from Ardmore, Pennsylvania, to Greenwich, Connecticut, along with the textile sales operation of his father's company, Joshua L. Baily & Company. Founded in 1876 by Fred Dent's maternal great-grandfather, Joshua L. Baily & Company is a factoring and textile sales agency.    

Dent graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and in the fall of 1940 enrolled at Yale University as a liberal arts major, with emphasis on political institutions. An avid sailor as a youth, he also joined the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Yale and played varsity football as an end and placekicker.

In June of 1943, with World War II raging, he graduated from Yale with a bachelor of arts degree and a commission in the United States Naval Reserve.

Active duty as a Naval Reserve officer followed soon after graduation, and he was assigned to a patrol craft escort converted for central control work and amphibious landings.

While his ship was in San Diego for shakedown, Dent was granted a 10-day leave, and he flew east to New York City to marry Mildred C. "Millie" Harrison on March 11, 1944. They met when he was 16 and her family was vacationing at their summer home in Bedford Hills, New York, not far from Dent's home in Connecticut.

Dent returned to his ship, which joined the United States Navy fleet on combat duty in the Pacific Theater. His ship was among eight waves of landing craft that transported 60,000 American troops to the shores of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. At great cost in American lives and naval vessels, Okinawa was finally declared secure on June 21, 1945.

After Japan's surrender, Lieutenant (jg) Frederick B. Dent, 23, was reassigned to another patrol craft as skipper, and, with a crew of 100, sailed the ship through the Panama Canal to Florida, where the vessel was put in mothballs.

As a civilian, Dent went to work as a textiles salesman for Joshua Baily & Company, and in September 1947 was transferred to Spartanburg County and Mayfair Mills, a Joshua Baily affiliate, to learn the textile manufacturing business.

He worked through the ranks in textile manufacturing, beginning as a sweeper, and completed a correspondence course in textile manufacturing from LaSalle Institute. Eleven years after moving from Connecticut to Spartanburg, Dent was elected president of Mayfair Mills.

Mayfair Mills was organized in the Spartanburg County town of Arcadia in 1934 to operate the two plants of the former Arcadia Cotton Mills—the Mayfair Plant, built in 1903, and the Baily Plant, which began production in 1923. Subsequently, four plants were added, three in upstate South Carolina and the fourth in Georgia.

When the Dents moved to Spartanburg County, the family consisted of Dent, Millie, and their first child, Frederick B., Jr., or "Rick." Later, Rick was joined by sisters Mildred, Diana, and Polly, and a brother, Mark.

In addition to Dent's involvement in the textile industry, he has been a force in national and international business and governmental affairs.

A member of the Business Council, which includes the foremost leaders of American business, Dent served as president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, and has been a director of several major corporations.

During President Richard Nixon's second term, he appointed Dent Secretary of Commerce and, in 1973, Dent moved his family to the nation's capital.

After Nixon resigned in 1974, Dent continued as Secretary of Commerce until 1975, when President Gerald Ford appointed him Special Representative for Trade Negotiations, with Cabinet rank, an office he held until President Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford.

With the election of Carter in 1977, the Dents returned to Spartanburg and Fred Dent to his job as president of Mayfair Mills. In 1988, Dent's son, Rick, became president, and Dent continues as Mayfair Mills chairman.

Dent served as a trustee of Yale University and as a trustee of the Institute of Textile Technology in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He has also been a member of the boards of International Paper Company, Communications Satellite Corporation, General Electric, Mutual Life Insurance of New York, Scott Paper Company, S. C. Johnson & Company, and SCN Corporation. In 1991, he served as chairman of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

He was among the founders of Spartanburg Day School and is a life trustee emeritus. The Dents are members of the Episcopal Church of the Advent, where he has served as vestryman and senior warden.    

Dent was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1994.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame