Walter S. Montgomery | Legacy of Leadership Profile
A profile of Walter Scott Montgomery.
Walter S. Montgomery (1900 – 1996)
Spartan Mills is one of the South Carolina textile industry's most highly regarded companies, and the high esteem in which it is held is a tribute to its former chairman, Walter S. Montgomery.
"People are our most important asset" is the motto of Spartan Mills, and it was the guiding principle of Walter Montgomery himself during the 73 years he spent in building a successful textile company and in helping to build the community of Spartanburg and the state of South Carolina.
Walter Scott Montgomery was born October 18, 1900, in Spartanburg, the son of Walter S. and Bessie Gibbes Montgomery. He was educated in the public schools and the Hastoc School for Boys in Spartanburg and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
He began his business career with the Montgomery & Crawford Hardware Company in Spartanburg and, in 1922, joined Spartan Mills, a company founded by his grandfather, Captain John H. Montgomery. He was named assistant treasurer in 1926 and, following the death of his father three years later, was elected president and treasurer. On February 3, 1972, he became chairman of the board after the election of his son, Walter S. Montgomery, Jr., as president and treasurer.
His leadership in the textile industry has been recognized by his election as president of both the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and the South Carolina Textile Manufacturers Association. He also served as a trustee of the Textile Hall Corporation, the J. E. Sirrine Foundation, and the Institute of Textile Technology at Charlottesville, Virginia.
Among his other business interests were Montgomery Industries, Inc., which operates merchandise distribution centers in Spartanburg, Charleston, and Rock Hill in South Carolina and in Asheville, North Carolina, and bonded warehouses in Spartanburg.
Montgomery was a member of the boards of the First National Bank of South Carolina, Piedmont Natural Gas Company, and the Bibb Company, and he was on the advisory board of Liberty Mutual Insurance Company.
An advocate of community building, Montgomery was the chief organizer of the Spartanburg County Foundation, and through the years, he participated in its widespread program of philanthropic activities. He was a diligent supporter of Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts of America, and the Spartanburg County United Way. He served as a trustee of the Spartanburg Music Foundation, the Spartanburg Historical Society, and the Spartanburg Regional Hospital Foundation. In recognition of his leadership at the hospital, the tower was named in his honor. He was a member and leader in the Episcopal Church of the Advent.
He devoted much time and energy to Converse College, serving on its board of trustees for 59 years and for 12 years as board chairman. During the years he was chairman, Converse experienced its greatest growth, progress, and physical plant expansion.
A strong believer in higher education, Montgomery was a member of the board of the South Carolina Foundation of Independent Colleges and served for a number of years as chairman. He was also a loyal supporter of Spartanburg Methodist College, Wofford College, and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg. At USC–Spartanburg, he was honored with the Founders Day award by the Spartanburg County Commission for Higher Education for his service to education in the county. He received honorary degrees from Clemson University, Wofford College, Converse College, and the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg.
He was made an Officer of the Order of King Leopold II of Belgium, the highest honor ever bestowed upon a non-Belgian citizen. The award was made in recognition of his efforts to foster good relations between Belgium and the United States. A tree, presented to him by the citizens of Ieper, Belgium, has been planted in Montgomery Commons, an area adjacent to the Piedmont Club in downtown Spartanburg that was named in his honor.
Both the Kiwanis Club of Spartanburg and the Spartanburg Board of Realtors named him their Citizen of the Year. The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce recognized Montgomery as its Businessman of the Year in 1984, and Governor Carroll Campbell awarded him the Order of the Palmetto.
He was married to the former Rose Bailey Cornelson of Clinton, and they were the parents of two children, Walter S. Montgomery, Jr., and Rose Johnston. They were the grandparents of eight.
Walter Montgomery died April 26, 1996.
He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1986.
© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame