In memoriam: Roger Milliken
January 6, 2011
Roger Milliken, who led Milliken & Co. for 71 years, died Dec. 30, 2010, in Spartanburg, S.C. He was president of Milliken & Co. from 1947 until 1983, when he became chairman and ceo. He relinquished the ceo title in 2005, and remained chairman until his death. Milliken was 95.
During his seven decades as the leader of Milliken & Company, Milliken expanded the business from a handful of plants to 50 manufacturing facilities in seven countries. The company now holds more than 2,300 patents in the U.S. alone.
Milliken was born Oct. 24, 1915, in New York City, the eldest son of Gerrish and Agnes (Gayley) Milliken. He graduated from Yale University in 1937, and immediately entered business as a “follow-up boy” in the New York office of Mercantile Stores, in which his family had an ownership stake. In 1941, he was given the stewardship of three small woolen mills in Maine. When his father died in 1947, the 32-year-old succeeded him as president.
Milliken married his wife of 55 years, Justine (Nita) Van Rensselaer Hooper, in 1948. (She died in 2003.) In 1954, Milliken and his family moved to Spartanburg, S.C. Both he and his wife moved into active community service; he serving on the board of Wofford College and she on the board of Converse College. Roger Milliken also served on other corporate and nonprofit boards, including: Arthur D. Little, Westinghouse, Citicorp, Mercantile, W.R. Grace; and Institute of Textile Technology, The Heritage Foundation, the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport Commission, and the Spartanburg Day School.
Milliken was known for his outreach to Milliken workers. He was always eager to hear views from the factory floor and instituted an “Opportunity for Improvement” process, whereby management committed to review and quickly implement changes according to suggestions written in by associates.
Milliken was also well known for his support of Republican causes and candidates, particularly those who favored small government and the protection of American jobs. From 1956 to 1984, he served as a delegate from South Carolina to eight Republican National Conventions.
Milliken is also remembered as an environmental steward. He loved the beauty of nature and worked with landscape architects and foresters in and around Milliken plant locations, local schools and colleges, the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, and the community. In 1999, Mr. Milliken established the Noble Tree Foundation to encourage the planting of enduring and beautiful trees, particularly in rundown or overlooked corners of the Greenville-Spartanburg area and at traffic interchanges.
Milliken said he wanted his epitaph to read, simply, “Builder.” A memorial service was held Jan. 3 at the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Spartanburg, S.C. A reception was held at the Piedmont Club immediately following the service to allow guests to visit with the family.
In lieu of flowers and in honor of Milliken's love of trees, the family requests that donations be made to: The Noble Tree Foundation.org, c/o The Spartanburg County Foundation, 424 E. Kennedy Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302.
For more information on Roger Milliken's life and accomplishments, visit roger.milliken.com.