Upstate textile magnate Milliken dies

UPSTATE — Textile tycoon Roger Milliken, who supervised operations at Milliken & Company for approximately 60 years — as president from 1947-83, chairman and CEO from 1983-2003 and chairman from 2003-2010, died Thursday, December 30, 2010 in Spartanburg. He was 95 years old.
Milliken, a billionaire and fixture on Forbes magazine’s list of richest Americans, was born in New York City on October 24, 1915. In 1947 he inherited the family’s textile business, which was co-founded in 1865 by his grandfather Seth Milliken, following the death of his father Gerrish Milliken.
Based in Spartanburg, Milliken & Company is one of the largest textile and chemical firms in the nation, manufacturing materials used in products as varied as flame-resistant gear for firefighters and the balloons in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Another ingenuity credited to Milliken is the ingredient responsible for giving Jell-O pudding its smooth creaminess.
According to Milliken’s company website, Milliken has produced more than 2,000 patents and has developed the largest textile research center in the world. Roger Milliken is responsible for designing the “Crafted with Pride in the U.S.A.” advertising campaign. Interested in protecting the American worker and textile industry, the campaign was created to deflect the flood of imported textiles that threatened the U.S. textile and apparel industry.
In 2001, in his mid-80s, Milliken co-founded the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC). Based in Washington, D.C., this organization is comprised of manufacturers who share a common mission “to preserve and create American manufacturing jobs through the establishment of trade policy and other measures necessary for the U.S. manufacturing sector to stabilize and grow.”
Because of Milliken’s unwavering dedication to the highest business standards and his personal and professional integrity, the industry’s trade publication, Textile World, selected him as the textile industry’s Leader of the Century in 1999.
He was also an inaugural inductee to the American Textile Hall of Fame. In addition, Business Week listed Milliken & Company as one of the “Best Places to Launch a Career” in 2008, and in 2009 FORTUNE magazine named it, for the fifth time, one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
Milliken & Company has also been recognized by the Ethisphere Institute as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” from 2007-2010.
Business and industry are not the only arenas in which Roger Milliken was a pivotal figure. He was a generous supporter of conservative Republicans. His financial and intellectual contributions to politics helped the Republican Party come to dominate politics in South Carolina. Milliken was a Republican delegate to eight national conventions from 1956-1984.
A proponent of equality in education, Milliken advocated for racial integration at Spartanburg’s Wofford College during the turbulent 1960s Civil Rights era. In fact, he even volunteered to support the college financially if its acceptance of black students drove other financial backers away. Eventually, the college voluntarily integrated its student population.
Before the idea of “going green” became fashionably ubiquitous, Roger Milliken was a devoted environmentalist well-known for his love of trees.
He established the Noble Tree Foundation in 1999 to encourage tree planting — especially in more rundown neighborhoods. In 2004, Milliken received the Frederick Law Olmsted Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the National Arbor Day Foundation. And in 2007, the American Society of Landscape Architects conferred Honorary Membership on Roger Milliken. He was also awarded the Frances K. Hutchinson Medal by the Garden Club of America.
Various recycling and emissions and waste reduction programs have been implemented and utilized at Milliken & Company for many years and the result is a current “carbon-negative” status.
According to company representatives, Milliken & Company plants divert “99.98 percent of all the company’s waste away from landfills to places where it can be reused, recycled, or converted to energy. Milliken and Company has reduced its rate of water usage by over 50 percent since 1991.”
A graduate of Yale University, Roger Milliken was married to his wife Justine Van Rensselaer Hooper for 55 years. She died in 2003. Together they raised five children and enjoyed nine grandchildren.
“Daddy lived a rewarding 95 years,” his children said in a recent press release. “We are grateful, as was he, for the friendship and support from so many that enabled him to live a full, productive, creative, and passionate life. He enjoyed every minute of it.”
Milliken CEO Joe Salley added, “We are in a profound state of sadness. We will miss him greatly.”