A. Lee M. Wiggins | Legacy of Leadership Profile

A. Lee M. Wiggins (1891–1980)

When Lee Wiggins graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1913, he moved to Hartsville to become secretary to David R. Coker, managing partner of J. L. Coker and Company, a business consisting of a large, modern department store, a cotton buying and selling business, and several farms.    

The farm operation included the breeding and growing of seed, which represented Coker's interest in crop improvement as a means of enriching Southern agriculture.

While Wiggins knew no shorthand, typed with two fingers, and struggled as a secretary, he was soon conducting much of Coker's business correspondence, even providing his signature and handling the sale of seed and the store advertising. Recognizing the potential of his $75-a-month employer, Coker hired a good stenographer, and Wiggins became more of an assistant than a secretary.

Thus, Wiggins began one of the most remarkable careers in South Carolina business history. He spent 40 years with J. L. Coker and Company, a period during which he was an employee, officer, and director.

Archibald Lee Manning Wiggins was born April 9, 1891, in Durham, North Carolina, the son of Archie Lee and Margaret London Council Wiggins.

Soon after he joined J. L. Coker and Company, Wiggins convinced David Coker that the seed business had commercial possibilities, and thus Coker's Pedigreed Seed Company was established. Wiggins' knowledge of agriculture was limited, but his business acumen wasn't. In 1919, he was elected secretary of J. L. Coker and Company and Coker Cotton Company and also secretary and treasurer of Pedigreed Seed Company.

The following year, he organized the Trust Company of South Carolina and was elected vice president and managing director, and later was named president. A year after he organized the Trust Company, he was named general manager of J. L. Coker and Company and was elected president of the Bank of Hartsville.

Wiggins purchased the Hartsville Messenger and, during his tenure as publisher, was elected president of the South Carolina Press Association.

He also was elected chairman of the Louisville and Nashville Railroads, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad,  and the Atlantic Coast Line Company.

Meanwhile, Wiggins was active in community affairs, serving as president of the Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, helping to organize the Hartsville Rotary Club and serving as its first president, accepting an appointment as chairman of the Darlington County Board of Education, and beginning a 27-year stint as a trustee of Hartsville's Byerly Hospital.

He served 30 years as a trustee of Coker College and was a lecturer for the Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University. Governor Ernest F. Hollings appointed him chairman of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Higher Education, and he was elected a trustee of the South Carolina Foundation of Independent Colleges.

Wiggins received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University.

He also served as a member of the board of directors of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and later as a director of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. He was president of both the South Carolina Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association.

In 1947, Wiggins was appointed under secretary of the Treasury by President Harry Truman and resigned all his business connections. He resigned as Treasury under secretary six months later, accepted an appointment as a special assistant to Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder, and served in that capacity for almost six years.

Wiggins was active in church work and was the first president of the board of the Baptist Foundation of South Carolina, serving for 15 years, and was a member of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He was married to the former Pauline Lawton, and they had four children, Margaret, Joseph, Lee Manning, and Elizabeth.

Lee Wiggins died July 7, 1980.

He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1988.     

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame