Location: Birmingham AL

Frank L. Mason

  • October 25th, 2021

In 1947, Mr. Sam Mason was having a hard time making a go of things with his business, Southeastern Tool & Die Company. Aluminum window screens were still new then, and the firm that originally only manufactured tools and dies had added three-screen parts to its production line, right as Mr. Mason’s health was beginning to fail.

“At that time,” recalls Frank L. Mason, “I really had not thought too much about starting with the company … It was more an effort to help my father. He’d helped me all his life.” So, the loyal son laid aside his mechanical engineering studies at The University of Alabama to go into business with his father. It was the first of a lot of smart business decisions the 1982 Alabama Small Business Person of the Year would make in his career.

Frank L. Mason was born May 7, 1924, to Sam Mason and Ruth Jacobs Mason in Birmingham, Alabama. He completed three semesters at The University of Alabama before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where he completed flight training immediately prior to the end of World War II. Shortly after he went to work with his father, the company was incorporated on April 1, 1948, just five days after Frank Mason had wed Bess Powell Cooper. He received 25 percent of the stock at that time, and the business was incorporated, going on to change its name to the Mason Corporation in 1969.

Today Frank Mason is chairman of the board of his firm, which now manufactures aluminum building products for the home improvement industry, as well as some commercial building products. The Mason Corporation home office is still located in Birmingham, but the concern has grown to include locations in Dallas, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Edison, New Jersey. The latest stats on the company show that it has more than 400,000 square feet in total building area, more than 180 employees at eight locations, and offers some 3,000 market items.

Over the years Mr. Mason’s entrepreneurial expertise prompted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to put him on its board of directors and its Small Business Council. A strong advocate of sharing profits with employees, he served a stint as chairman of the Profit Sharing Council of America, an organization of companies that have profit-sharing plans. He just recently stepped down from that body’s board of directors and served as a director for the Alabama Profit Sharing Council. Profit-sharing, Frank Mason says, is one way of showing the employee he or she is important, and it makes good business sense. “With profit-sharing, you’re really following with deeds what you’re saying with words … it’s a matter of mutual interest and welfare of the company,” he says. And Mr. Mason did indeed back up his words with deeds: his company began profit-sharing as soon as it got on its feet in the early 1950s.

He has been on the National Advisory Council for the Small Business Administration, chairman of the Employee Benefits Committee for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and served as the second-ever chairman of the Business Council of Alabama, as well as on its board of directors. He was a member of The University of Alabama College of Commerce and Business Administration Board of Visitors. And the list goes on.

As president of the board of directors of the Alabama Chamber of Commerce, he has been a leader in the state’s push to become a player on the global business scene, stressing teamwork as the necessary element for success in such ventures. “If Alabama is to reach its full international development potential, it will be because we have all worked together to make it happen,” he was known for saying at one point.

In 1980 he was singled out by the Women’s Committee of 100 in Birmingham as the Citizen of the Year and earned his Small Business Person of the Year honors soon after that. At one point he was the member representing small businesses on the Labor and Agriculture Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Two times he chaired the Alabama delegation to the White House Conference on Small Business, once in 1980 and then again in 1986. He is currently vice president of the Treasure Forest Landowners Association of Alabama, president of the Alabama Farm Owners Association and serves on the board of Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham.

Over the years as he combined his business interests and natural bent for leadership, Frank Mason found himself drawn to the political arena. He became one of the first two Republicans elected to office in Jefferson County, Alabama when he won the race for justice of the peace in 1956. In 1958 he was the first Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress from Jefferson County. Then, in 1976 he served as an alternate delegate pledged to (now) former U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the Kansas City National Republican Convention; and was a delegate, again pledged to Reagan, at the Detroit Convention in 1980. He served his state in the very visible position of member, and then chairman of the State Ethics Commission during the first half of the 1990s.

Remembering his early years in the business of politics, he says he did not run for justice of the peace because he coveted the position, but because, as a Republican, he believed voters in the heavily Democratic Alabama should have a choice. They agreed; he won. That victory spurred him on to his other efforts.

“I think that small business has some real assets to bring to the political process,” says Mr. Mason. “It’s easy for people passing laws and regulations to overlook the impact of them … A person who has had to mortgage his house to meet a Friday payroll looks at spending differently than if he has never had that experience. So, I think there is validity to the small business perspective in managing government.”

Although retired from day-to-day participation in the management of the business that became his life, Mr. Mason has not retired in the traditional sense. He spends his time now on a farm of some 3,000 acres in North Alabama, where he is involved in efforts to enhance the wildlife populations of the area, and where he works about 80 head of cattle, planning to expand even more in that area. He says he enjoys meeting new people who share these interests he is able to devote more time to now, as he enjoys using talents and skills entirely different than those called for in the metal and building products industry.

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Frank L. Mason does not have to ponder long on his answer.

“I guess being remembered as a person of integrity would be about the best thing you could think of,” he says.

Wallace R. Bunn

  • October 25th, 2021

In 1941, all Wally Bunn wanted was a summer job with his local telephone company.

He wound up instead with the career of a lifetime.

Wallace R. Bunn was born October 26, 1922, in Durham, North Carolina, to parents Wallace Raikes Bunn and Alda Beck Bunn. In high school, the man who would eventually serve as director of the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1980-1983 was an athletic youngster who became an all-state end in football, served as captain of the basketball team, ran track, and was sports editor of his high school paper. He was also student body president; participated in the chorus, Boys State, and dramatics; and was voted most handsome and most popular. The real high school interest that stayed with him through the years, however, was one Miss Margaret P. Seegers, a dark-haired beauty who caught his eye early on and became his bride on December 19, 1942.

But it was before Wallace and Margaret were wed that he took that first job out of high school, a summer position with the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company as a coin telephone collector in Charlotte, North Carolina. His original plan was to enter Davidson College in the fall of ’41, but World War II loomed ugly on the horizon, and the money Wallace was earning with the phone company, he decided, would help make entry into college somewhat easier financially if he postponed matriculation for a year. The threat of war did become reality, and Wallace was sent by the telephone company to work with defense installations in a neighboring state. Southern Bell later wrote a letter canceling the position’s military deferment so young Bunn could join up with the U. S. Coast Guard, with which he served from 1943-1946.

His country served, Wallace Bunn returned to the Tarheel State to find that Southern Bell had a job – and work credit of five years – ready and waiting for him. Years later he would talk to an Alabama newspaper about his decision not to take advantage of GI Bill tuition assistance and

pursue his college degree then, saying, “If someone wants to go to college, I would advise them to go. But if you don’t have the desire, then don’t go. I have regretted not going to college, but there are times when I can say I’m glad I didn’t … I got my education the hard way, and you appreciate it more when you get it that way.”

Thus began, for the second time, a career in telecommunications for Wallace Bunn – a career that would culminate in the 1980s when he oversaw the creation of one of the largest companies in the United States after the divestiture from American Telephone and Telegraph Company of two operating companies covering nine Southeastern states.

In 1948 Wallace and Margaret were blessed with the birth of their first son, Rodney. Son Russell would join the Bunn family in 1958, and in between the family would live in Shelby, Winston-Salem and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as Wallace began his climb up the Southern Bell company ladder, working as a manager, a district commercial

supervisor, and a district manager. Another promotion, this one to division manager, came in 1959, and with it a move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But Wally was not all work and no play; during this time, he also became involved with the Boy Scouts as a Scoutmaster and a trustee. His involvement with numerous civic activities would last through the decades and be one of the reasons cited for his induction into the State of Alabama Academy of Honor in 1984.

Over the years the Bunn family would live in fourteen different cities, with their patriarch serving in increasingly more responsible management positions with each change in locale. They would first call Alabama home in 1962 when Wallace was named assistant vice president of Southern Bell. After a move to Nashville, Tennessee, he would return to Birmingham in 1969, when he was elected a director of South Central Bell and appointed vice president of operations for its five states.

Then came a shift of coastal proportions; Wallace was transferred to Seattle, Washington, as president and a director of Pacific Northwest Bell, in 1973. While in Nashville and Seattle, he served as president of the Chamber of Commerce in both cities. He would return, again, to Birmingham in 1978 as president and a director of South Central Bell.

“There’s a story about us coming back to Birmingham so much,” the business executive once told a reporter. “I had an application in for the Birmingham Country Club for a long time and they finally took me in. I paid my initiation fee and everything. Then I was transferred to Nashville, and I didn’t think I would be coming back, so I gave up my membership. Then I came back to Birmingham and had to pay my initiation fee all over again to get back into the country club. And when I was transferred to Seattle, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to Birmingham, so I gave up my membership again. Then when I came back the last time, I had to pay the initiation fee all over again – for the third time.

“I tell my wife when I die, to keep a non­resident membership in the Birmingham Country Club. I may come back.”

From 1981 until the historic breakup of the Bell System January 1, 1984, Wallace Bunn was one of the top twelve Bell System officers involved in the planning and execution of the complete divestiture of the Bell Operating Companies from AT&T. Until his formal retirement, he served in Atlanta, Georgia, as the first chairman of the board and chief executive officer of BellSouth Corporation, the largest of the then-newly created “Baby Bells” and the fourteenth largest corporation in the nation, with 125,000 employees at the time. In 1985 he relinquished his position at BellSouth but remained on its Board of Directors through April of 1991 – fifty years after a summer of shaking the nickels out of coin telephones.

Over the years the gentleman named Young Man of the Year by the Hattiesburg Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1958 has served on twelve corporate boards, including those for such companies as AmSouth Bank, Holiday Inn, Morrison, Incorporated, and, currently, Altec Corporation. Civic and philanthropic affiliations have included Chambers of Commerce in many cities, the Salvation Army, Junior Achievement, Urban League, United Way, Rotary Club (including a still long-running stint as Poet Laureate of the Birmingham club), St. Vincent’s Hospital, Baptist Medical Center, and numerous economic development and governmental advisory bodies.

In 1988 this leader in his career field was honored by BellSouth with the creation and endowment of the Wallace R. Bunn Chair of Telecommunications at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The chair provides leadership for the university’s Center for Telecommunications and Education Research, and Wallace Bunn – who spends his days now golfing, fishing and painting, the dark-haired beauty still by his side – believes that is vital.

“The hallmark of this business is that the progress has never stopped,” he says of his life’s professional work. “I pray it never will.”

Ehney A. Camp, Jr.

  • October 25th, 2021

Ehney Camp graduated from The University of Alabama in 1928 with a perfect grade point average.

He was just as successful in every other area of his life.

Ehney Addison Camp, Jr., was born May 9, 1907, in Maylene, Alabama, the son of William Wheeler Camp and Pearl Eugenia Hendrick. His father would pass on early in the boy’s life, and his mother would remarry, giving Ehney as a stepfather William Levert Christian. After graduating from Shelby County High School in Columbiana, Alabama, young Camp would head to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he would begin an incredible career of academic and civic success.

He was a member of the elite academic and social honoraries – Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa, Beta Gamma Sigma, Alpha Kappa Psi, and the Jason’s. He joined Sigma Nu Fraternity, forming bonds that would last a lifetime. When he received a degree from the state university’s school of business, it was accompanied by that college’s Outstanding Student Award. Ehney was also honored with the university’s coveted Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award in recognition of his outstanding scholarship, leadership, and record of service.

The summer prior to his graduation, Ehney worked with the Birmingham firm of Ward, Sterne, and Company, now Sterne, Agee, and Leach. After his summa cum laude commencement, he obtained permanent employment with the group, and in his own words (from a History of the Investment Division of Liberty National Life Insurance Company, written in April 1973), “had an opportunity to learn something about bonds and stocks.” After a year he received an offer to open in Tuscaloosa a branch office of Bankers Mortgage Bond Company. Almost immediately after his relocation, the stock market crash of October 1929 occurred, and the company decided to assign him the task of managing the tremendous number of foreclosures and fore­closed properties that were resulting because of the flattened economy. Again, from his History: “Liberty National had previously acquired some mortgages from Bankers Mortgage Bond Company, which the latter firm was servicing for Liberty National. When Bankers Mortgage Company finally went into receivership, it became necessary for Liberty National to take over these mortgages and handle them directly. Because Liberty National had no one with the time or experience to handle these details, I was ‘thrown in’ with the deal and began employment with the company on March 21, 1932.”

And thus began the second chapter of incredible success for Ehney Camp, Jr., this one writ on his professional success.

In his career with Liberty National, which would later become a part of Torchmark Corporation, Ehney would rise through the ranks from his initial position as the first investment employee to become company treasurer in 1935, then a member of the board of directors in 1940. Three years later he was named vice president, and in 1960 was made executive vice president. After his death on January 20, 1993, Torchmark representatives called Ehney Camp “one of the key contributors to the growth and success of Liberty National Life. He was the company’s first chief investment officer … Under his direction, the company’s investments grew from some $2 million to $1 billion.” In 1984 he was named to the Torchmark Gallery of Leaders.

But Ehney was not focused only on helping his company become an insurance giant. He had a personal life, as well, and bits of that found their way into History. “I had been given the responsibility of personally preparing the annual statement,” he wrote. “My problem was to meet the deadline in getting the statement prepared prior to my marriage on February 25, 1933 … Also, since I was taking on the additional responsibilities of marriage, I apparently believed it important to render an annual report to the board … This report showed I had saved the company $1,933 whereas the company had paid my salary of only about $1,600 during the nine and one-third months I had been employed. If I had known that all the banks of the country would close their doors on March 4, 1933, only seven days after my marriage, my report probably would have been directed even more strongly toward the need the company had for my services.”

Ehney Camp married Miss Mildred Fletcher Tillman, and the two had three children, daughters Patricia Alice Camp Faulkner and Mary Eugenia Camp Boulware, and son Ehney Addison Camp III. At the time of his death the elder Camp had eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, now numbering fourteen with one on the way. “The happiness of his family was the most important thing in his life,” said daughter Patricia. “The exemplary values he set for himself have been handed down to all of us.”

As his family grew, so did Ehney Camp’s civic and charitable commitments. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to his Special Advisory Committee on Government Housing Policies and Programs. And the bonds with his fraternity and alma mater grew stronger with the passing years – he served as an advisor, then as a director of the Theta House Corporation, and as a member of the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation. In 1981 the chapter awarded him its Distinguished Alumni Award. A former president of the University of Alabama National Alumni Association, he was chosen as the 1973 Outstanding Alumnus by the Jefferson County Chapter of the Association, and in 1985 was honored by the national organization with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. The university presented him with an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1979; there is a scholarship awarded in his honor by the UA business school.

He served on The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees from 1959 to 1979, and in that capacity was instrumental in planning the growth of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was also a member of the committee organized by the city of Birmingham in the mid-1960s to expand the medical center, and in that capacity provided critical assistance in acquiring the land occupied by the urban university. Camp Hall, an eleven-story residence hall on the UAB campus, is named in his honor.

A former president of First National Bank of Columbiana, Ehney Camp was a former president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Birmingham. He was treasurer and member of the executive committee of Brown-Service Funeral Homes Company, chairman of the board of trustees of First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, past president of the Birmingham Kiwanis Club, and a life member of Kiwanis International. He was a member of the Newcomen Society of North America, a board member of Acipco, served as United Way campaign chairman, and was affiliated with dozens of other civic and professional organizations. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1976.

Ehney Addison Camp, Jr., was a man committed to his family and friends, his faith and community, and his alma mater. And he was committed to his profession, as his own words show so clearly.

“Because life insurance contracts span several generations, the company is more than just a business. It is an institution, with tremendous obligations and responsibilities to literally thousands of families. Those who are charged with investing its assets must constantly keep before them the nature and full meaning of this trust.”

Ehney Camp was worthy of that trust.

James Coleman Lee, Jr.

  • October 18th, 2021

Family pride, cutting-edge packaging innovations, and a fierce competitive streak have been the driving forces behind Jimmy Lee’s unparalleled success in his industry, a success made all the sweeter because this lifetime soft drink man made his mark ” with Pepsi – almost literally in Atlanta-based Coca-Cola’s back yard.

Born January 10, 1920, to parents Elizabeth Turley and James Coleman Lee, Sr., in Birmingham, Alabama, James Coleman “Jimmy” Lee, Jr. was also born to the world of sugars and fizz; his father was second-generation president and owner of the Buffalo Rock Company. As Jimmy grew up in this family with ginger ale bottling roots, he greatly anticipated the day he, too, could become a part of the business his grandfather Sidney Lee founded during the Civil War. “The Lee family is tied to the beverage industry totally,” said Jimmy, who as a small child had a drink stand in his neighborhood and would go with his father to the family plant and see the truck drivers off on their delivery routes each day. Later, at age 19 he would load those same route trucks during the summer. “I enjoy it, my entire family enjoys it,” he said. “I guess we were weaned on a soft-drink bottle.”

However, Jimmy’s dreams of joining the family business would have to wait; first came the pursuit of higher education at Birmingham Southern College and Auburn University. Then World War II erupted and his country needed him; Jimmy left college during his junior year and within three years of joining the U.S. Air Force in 1943 had climbed the ranks from private to first lieutenant while in troop carrier command in England. After military service, the young man came back to Alabama eager to become a contributor at Buffalo Rock. Sadly, it was not too long after Jimmy joined the company that it became apparent his presence was much needed; James Lee, Sr., had fallen ill, and many, of his goals were still unfulfilled.

When the senior Lee passed away in May of 1951, his son – shaken by the loss of the role model he loved so dearly – took the reins as president of Buffalo Rock. Only one month later, with company sales at approximately $1 million and with fewer than 100 employees, 31-year-old Jimmy set out to realize one of his late father’s goals: signing with the Pepsi Cola Company. Jimmy successfully bought into the Pepsi franchise, and thus he embarked on the journey that would lead Buffalo Rock to become one of the industry giant Coca-Cola’s fiercest competitors in the South as Jimmy skillfully guided his company into handling other national brand products, along with smaller regional brands.

Another move Jimmy made early in his tenure as president was to buy out the holdings other family members had in the company. “I wanted the flexibility to do well or not to do well,” he recalled years later. “If I took a chance and went broke, I didn’t want my family to suffer.”

That flexibility paid off: Jimmy bought into the Dr. Pepper franchise in 1957 and followed that move with the purchase of the 7UP franchise in 1962. Buffalo Rock received well-deserved accolades as it became the largest family-owned Pepsi-Cola operation in the country – a status it still retains today. In 1966, Jimmy moved to ensure the growth and success of his grandfather’s company by building the then-most up-to-date bottling plant in the United States on a 27-acre site on Oxmoor Road in Birmingham. Further raising the bar on its competition, Buffalo Rock also added two additional production lines to the newly opened facility and handled more flavors than most bottlers, including Pepsi Cola, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Yoo-Hoo, Hershey’s, Grapico, 7UP, Sunkist, Ocean Spray, and of course Buffalo Rock. The company now has seven production lines and has added Tropicana to its family of products.

It was also in the 1960s that Jimmy made his mark on the soft drink industry with the first of his bold packaging innovations. In 1967 Buffalo Rock became the first company to market a 10-ounce non-returnable bottle – an innovation made even more remarkable because of its easy-open spin-top close feature. After that the number of employees at Buffalo Rock continued to climb steadily, totaling more than 1,000 over the next two decades thanks to acquisitions ranging from Dothan, Alabama, to Pensacola, Florida, and Columbus, Georgia. The 1980s were truly a time of success as Jimmy made another bold packaging move and introduced a product that would revolutionize the beverage industry: in 1984, consumers in the Birmingham market became the first to buy their soft drinks in three-liter bottles.

Strategic product innovations continued with a “best used by” date stamped on all cans in 1993 and the invention of Pourfection two-liter bottles in 1996. Buffalo Rock’s competition scrambled frantically as consumers embraced the easy-to-pour design, which Jimmy said he believed allowed for easier pouring for consumers of all ages. Once again, Jimmy left the competition to jump on his bandwagon as Buffalo Rock’s sales increased to $380 million.

In addition to setting industry trends, Jimmy, married since 1986 to the former Rose Marie Rezzonico and father to James C. Lee III, Peyton Leigh, and Donaldson Lee, focused on maintaining employee relations. “We have an open-door policy,” Jimmy said. “Employees can walk into my office, and we treat our employees as individuals, not numbers.” In 1976 he further backed up that philosophy by beginning a 401(k)/profit-sharing plan approximating $40 million. Strong employee relationships are even more important to Jimmy today as the company, with a payroll of $70 million, employs more than 2,400 employees and serves 5 million people with 14 distribution centers in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

Although he did not complete his own college degree, Jimmy’s firm belief in the value of higher education and in giving back to the community led him over the years to serve as president of the Board of Trustees of Birmingham Southern College and head for four years of the President’s Council of the Uni­versity of Alabama at Birmingham. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Leadership Birmingham and the Southern Research Institute, and a member of the University of Alabama President’s Cabinet, and is also a director of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

Through the years Jimmy’s hard work and success as a business leader and his dedication to his community have been recognized through numerous awards, including the first Birmingham Service Award in 1983 and his induction into the prestigious Alabama Academy of Honor in 1987. In 1972 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award by the Alabama Soft Drink Association, and in 1978 received the Beverage Man of the Year Award. One of his crowning industry glories came in 1987 when he was inducted into the Beverage Industry Hall of Fame.

But there is another industry glory even more important to Jimmy Lee, now chairman of a Buffalo Rock that ended 1997 with $400 million in sales. Thanks to him, his children, and their children uphold a family tradition by going to work each day for a company that began making its mark on the soft drink indus­try in the 1800s – and will continue to do so long into the next century.

Elton B. Stephens

  • October 11th, 2021

Elton Stephens believes anyone can successfully sell anything.

Founder and chairman of the board of EBSCO Industries, Inc., Elton Bryson Stephens was born August 4, 1911, to parents Clara Stuckey and James Nelson Stephens in Clio, Alabama. A small-town boy, 11 Elton quickly learned the value of money. “When I was four, I had pneumonia, and I remember my father often standing over my crib and entertaining me,” Elton once recalled fondly. “He once tried to swap me a nickel for a dime saying it was bigger and had more value. He kept asking me why didn’t I want it, but I didn’t fall for that one.”

What Elton did fall for was a love of busi­ness. As a youngster, he would rise early to milk the family’s cows, then bottle and sell the milk before school. He also sold an odd mix of newspapers, suits, sandwiches, and Cloverine Salve, thereby setting a pattern he would follow with EBSCO in the years to come; it would not seem odd to him that a company known for its printing and distribution capacities could also excel in the manufacture of fishing line.

In 1928, after graduating from Barbour County High School, Elton set off for Birmingham-Southern College with just $125. To cover the rest of his costs, the enterprising young man worked full-time as a salesman in a local dry goods store. Summers were spent working for Butterick, selling subscriptions to that once-famous dress pattern maker’s magazine, and in 1930 Elton and five friends hitchhiked north to Michigan to sell subscriptions door-to-door all day. “That first year, I saved $500 and that’s like several thousand today,” he remembers. “That meant I didn’t have to work as much during the school year, so I could study more.” Study and concentrate on his college romance with Alys Varian Robinson, whom he dated for seven years before the two married. That marriage, which lasted until Alys Stephens’ death in 1996, took place in 1935, after Elton had graduated from Birmingham-Southern and before he completed his last year of law school at The University of Alabama. The couple had four children: James T. Stephens, Jane Stephens Comer, Elton B. Stephens, Jr., and Dell Stephens Brooke.

Elton had continued selling subscriptions as he worked to complete his education, even hiring other students to work for him, including fellow Barbour County boy George Wallace, who would later become governor of Alabama. After graduating from law school, Elton found that he could earn only $75 a month as a lawyer while selling magazines would bring in some $100 a week. He chose the magazine route and kept selling and hiring others to sell. In 1937 he obtained a franchise with Keystone Readers Service, a middleman between subscribers and publishers of such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal. Basing his operation in Birmingham, Alabama, Elton soon had salesmen hawking titles all over the Southeast, including – as World War II began – at nearby Fort McClellan. That went so well he branched out to other military bases and was able to save to start his own business.

EBSCO quickly expanded; Elton saw the need for magazine racks at Fort McClellan and other places and formed Vulcan Industries to make them. Soon after, along came an EBSCO publishing and bindery company to help keep the racks full of reading matter, and later a printing plant. Then there was the need for military recreational equipment and furnishings for the officers’ clubs, so EBSCO eventually found itself handling carpeting and drapery, with a plant in Georgia, and managing military entertainment, with the purchase of National Billiard, America’s old­est pool table company.

And so it went through the years, one thing leading to another. EBSCO Industries is now so diverse it deals with everything from investments to library periodicals, plastic fishing lures to steel joists, indoor advertising to realty, with Elton’s love of selling seemingly forever moving the company forward into new markets. With headquarters still in Birmingham, EBSCO sells its products throughout the United States and has operations in more than 30 states and almost 20 foreign countries, including Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, France, Greece, Canada, and Turkey.

As EBSCO grew into a worldwide empire, Elton was very clear about his goals. As listed in Who’s Who, they encompass both the capitalistic and altruistic aspects of his personality:

“Invest/reinvest earnings to create employment/profits for growth/expansion. Support worthwhile projects including but not limited to education, health, religion, needy, cultural arts, boys/girls clubs, law enforcement, conservation, nature, water resources. Share profits and protect the welfare and health of employees with a major catastrophic medical program. These philosophies built a company I started in 1943 with capital of $5,000 and sales under $1,000,000, and fewer than 20 employees to annual sales of more than $1 billion on June 30, 1997; over 4,000 employees and 100 profit centers operating worldwide with adequate capital to continue growth. Built with retained earnings and borrowed money.”

It was Elton’s frustration with borrowing money early in his business career that led him in 1981, at the age of 70, to begin a sec­ond career – as a financier. Tired of lenders who would refuse to lend against accounts receivable or not discuss long-term debt, he went looking for cheap banks in small towns, and purchased Citizens Bank in Leeds, Alabama, with $21 million in assets, for $2 million in borrowed funds and $600,000 of his own money. His aggressive selling techniques translated well in the banking arena, and a decade later the bank’s assets had more than dou­bled, to $46 million, leading Elton to form the company known as Alabama Bancorp. In 1986 he bought Fort Deposit Bank in Fort Deposit, Alabama, for $3.6 million; then, with $4.2 million – about two-thirds of which was from him and his family- he started Highland Bank in Birmingham in 1988. Another decade – and another career success later – Elton announced that he would sell Alabama Bancorp and all its associated holdings, worth some $280 million, to Bancorp South.

In addition to a lifetime of business and financial endeavors, Elton has committed his life to enrich the world around him. He has been involved with the Southern Research Institute, Waste Water Facilities Development Committee, Y.M.C.A., American Council of the Arts, United Arts Fund, Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Methodist Hospitals, American Cancer Society, Alabama Development Office, and most especially the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. The building where the orchestra performs – the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center – is named in honor of Elton’s beloved bride.

Elton has also never forgotten the importance of education, and in the mid-1990s funded the nation’s largest endowment for a chair of library sciences, at The University of Alabama. He has served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for Birmingham-Southern College and had numerous scholarships established in his name at both his alma maters; his honors and accolades abound.

After more than 80 years of business and financial endeavors, Elton says working is still his favorite hobby. “You can take any business, any product, anything and sell it,” he says. “You have to stay with it, learn from mistakes, know what you’re doing and you’ll succeed.”

Elton Stephens succeeded.

William R. Ireland

  • October 11th, 2021

William R. Ireland has been described as “one of the best friends the environment of Alabama has ever had.” That friendship can easily be expanded to include education, volunteerism, philanthropy, athletics, and business, for he has been a true and valued friend to all.

Born December 3, 1923, to parents Katharine Lenora Reynolds and Charles Byron Ireland in Gadsden, Alabama, Ireland would embark on a 39-year career in his family’s business, Vulcan Materials, which has become the nation’s leading supplier of construction aggregate and a leading manufacturer of chemicals. And he also would leave an indelible mark on the history of environmental protection in the state of Alabama.

Ireland is a true Son of the South. He received his education in the public schools of Birmingham and was graduated from the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He then began his college career at Auburn University and later transferred to Marion Military Institute. After his second year at Marion, he entered the U.S. Navy and served from 1943 until 1946.

When he returned home from the navy, Ireland joined the family business. The predecessor of Vulcan Materials, Birmingham Slag Company, had been purchased by the Ireland family in 1916. Birmingham Slag produced aggregate for making concrete, for highway and railroad beds, and much of the aggregate came from waste produced by the Birmingham mills of U.S. Steel’s Tennessee Coal and Iron and Republic Steel.

During his career with Vulcan, Ireland was president of two Vulcan subsidiaries, executive vice president of the Midwest division, manager of community relations, and for 29 years a member of the company’s board of directors.

The success of the Ireland family and Vulcan Materials was featured in the Feb. 14, 1959, issue of Business Week under the headline, “Invasion From the Deep South.” The article detailed the expansion of Vulcan Materials from the piney hills of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida into the North and the Midwest.

Through the Ireland family’s leadership, Vulcan Materials has always been an outstanding corporate citizen deeply committed to the needs of the Birmingham community and those of Alabama as a whole.

Active in the business, civic, and cultural affairs of Birmingham, Ireland has been known for its generosity to worthy causes. He has served as chairman of the C.B. Ireland Foundation, as a board member of the Birmingham Area Council of Boy Scouts of America; chairman and board member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham; board member and President of the Lurleen B. Wallace Memorial Foundation; board member of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Supporters; board member of the American Cancer Society – Alabama Division; board member, president and chairman of the board of the American Cancer Society-Jefferson County; board member of the Baylor School; president and board member of the Alabama Wildlife Federation; board member of the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys and Girls Ranches; chairman of the Community Chest, Builders Division, and Alexis de Tocqueville Society of United Way – Jefferson County; chairman of special gifts, Alabama Heart Association; member of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Statewide Steering Committee; and co-chairman of the UAB Capital Campaign Metro Region Steering Committee.

Ireland has received the Distinguished American Award from the National Football League and Hall of Fame – Alabama Division, and the 1981 Citizen of the Year Award from the Alabama Broadcasters Association.

Marion Military Institute, where he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, has always been close to Ireland’s heart and he has labored mightily to help the school. His efforts were recognized in 1991 when the Institute named its athletic center in his honor. In 1942, Ireland was the center on MMI’s football team when it played The University of Alabama freshmen. MMI lost 33-6, but Ireland scored MMl’s only touchdown on a 65-yard pass interception.

In 1948, Ireland married Fay Belt of Birmingham, who has shared his love of the outdoors and his dedication to education. The Irelands have five children and thirteen grandchildren.

The Irelands have given graciously of their time and resources to many educational institutions. Auburn University has established the William R. and Fay Ireland Distinguished Scholarship in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, and the Ireland Fisheries Laboratory at Auburn bears his name. The family also has given generously to Baylor and Birmingham-Southern, including the establishment of the Baylor-Ireland Scholarship for a graduating senior at Baylor who wishes to continue at Birmingham-Southern.

Ireland has been an active outdoorsman his entire life – hunter, fisherman, and guardian of the environment. His retirement from Vulcan Materials in 1982 gave him more time to devote to the state’s wildlife resources.

In 1992-93 he served with distinction as President of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and served on the organization’s board of directors and its executive committee for many years. The organization’s headquarters building in Montgomery is named in his honor.

He is a life member of The Gulf Coast Conservation Association, The Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

He is a Benefactor Member of Ducks Unlimited (Canada, United States, and Mexico) and serves on the organization’s board of directors as an honorary member. He also serves on the boards of directors for the Alabama Wildlife Endowment, the Cahaba River Society advisory committee, and the Alabama Wildlife Rescue Service. All of these organizations frequently turned to Bill Ireland for advice and support, particularly in their fledgling years. Never were they refused. His activities currently include serving as Alabama chairman of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s capital campaign.

Continuing his love of the outdoors and its denizens, he has developed fish and wildlife showplace on “Wild Acres,” his farm in Shelby County, and he is active in the renovation of “Five Star,” the plantation in Coosa County that was formerly the site of The University of Alabama conference facility.

But perhaps his defining moment in the service of the environment was his leadership role in the development and successful approval of the state’s Forever Wild Constitutional Amendment.

For the first time in the history of Alabama, a state-funded program was established to acquire land throughout the state to be used for conservation and recreation purposes.

Over the next twenty years, the Forever Wild program will provide up to $350 million for land acquisition and stewardship, a huge step toward ensuring that future Alabamians will be able to enjoy the outdoor life.

Ireland’s gracious manner, his honest approach, his enthusiasm, and his obvious love for the Alabama outdoors allowed him to weld into an effective coalition a diverse committee of hunters, environmentalists, fishermen, state agency representatives and representatives from the forest industry and the corporate world, who together forged an acceptable piece of legislation.

And after the Legislation was approved, he took on the job of raising money to finance the voter education effort necessary to ensure voter approval of the bill. The result? An overwhelming 84 percent of the voters approved the legislation, the highest approval rate for a land acquisition bill in the nation.

Author Washington Irving, in The Angler, wrote that ” There is certainly something in angling … that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit, and a pure serenity of mind.”

Friends of Bill Ireland describe him as a “gentleman,” and a “gentle sportsman.” And certainly, the wildlife with which Alabama is so abundantly blessed would agree.

So, the next time you see a young doe grazing at twilight, or if you are lucky enough to experience the heart-stopping “whrrrrrrrrr!” of a covey of quail bursting from a fence corner or to hear the far off honking of a flight of Canada geese on an October night, say a thank you to Bill Ireland.

William J. Rushton, III

  • October 11th, 2021

Billy Rushton has been a part of Protective Life Insurance Company for nearly 62 years, since 1937. That’s when his father, Colonel William J. Rushton, was elected president of the company.

William J. (Billy) Rushton, III, was born April 23, 1929, in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of Colonel William J. Rushton and Elizabeth Perry Rushton.

“I inherited from them a good name, a desire to do my best, a sense of obligation to serve my community, and above-average opportunity to render that service,” Rushton says.

Rushton, who retired as Chief Executive Officer in 1992 and as Chairman of the Board in 1999, has made exemplary use of his “inheritance.”

In his 45 years as an employee of Protective Life Insurance Company, Rushton’s integrity, and uncompromising insistence on quality in all with which he is associated have set standards by which an entire company and its people measure themselves.

“Protective Life has his mark,” says Drayton Nabers, Jr., current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Protective Life Insurance. “In his generation of leadership, Billy gave the company its mission and values … its quality. Quality is written all over the company, its assets, its balance sheet, its service … and especially its people. This quality is a living thing, and he is its heart and soul.”

Rushton acknowledges that he was born a fortunate person, with the proverbial “silver spoon” close at hand. And he is the third Rushton to be inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame. His father, William J. Rushton, and his grandfather, J. Frank Rushton, have been previously honored, in 1980 and 1975 respectively. But make no mistake, Billy Rushton has paid his dues and earned his keep.

As a youth, he attended Birmingham University School, which became Altamont School, before heading off to Exeter and eventually Princeton. He is an Eagle Scout, Scouting’s highest honor. At University School he received the Citizenship Trophy for best all-around student and was awarded the Scholarship Cup for having the highest scholastic average in the school. At Phillips-Exeter Academy, where he graduated in 1947, he was a member of the varsity swimming team and varsity crew.

The next stop was Princeton University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1951.

But before he could begin his insurance career, there was a matter in Korea where Rushton served as an Artillery Forward Observer and later as a Battery Commander, rising to the rank of Captain. His service in Korea earned him the Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat.

Upon returning home from the battlefield, Rushton joined Prudential Insurance Company as an actuarial trainee, then joined the actuarial department at Protective Life. Four years later he resigned as an officer and became an insurance salesman. And in his third year, he led Protective Life’s sales force in sales and qualified for the Million Dollar Round table.

By 1963 he had worked his way up to Vice President and Director of Individual Sales, a post he held until 1968. In 1969 he was elected President and Chief Executive Officer, a role he accepted as nothing less than a personal responsibility for the future of the company.

His vision for Protective Life was to see it grow to national prominence. He assembled a highly motivated management team and set “stretch” goals. His leadership style is that of a servant, although a determined one.

Since 1969 when Protective Life was licensed in only 14 Southeastern states with revenues of $57 million, the company grew steadily through sales and acquisitions to the point that by 1992, when Rushton stepped down as chief executive officer, it was represented in all 50 states with revenues exceeding $500 million and assets of more than $3 billion.

During his 22 years at the helm, Protective Life shareholders benefited greatly. Net income per share grew at a compound rate of 13.7 percent per year and the dividend per share at a rate of 12 percent per year, ranking the company in the top 20 percent of the life insurance industry.

Rushton has always been known for having an open office. He has instilled, through example, a sense of fairness throughout the company, insisting that profit never be pursued at the cost of honor or truth or at the expense of others.

He has willingly assumed the responsibility of good citizenship and contributed his time, energy, and resources to charitable and civic endeavors. He has served as a trustee at Birmingham-Southern College and as chairman of the board of trustees; director of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce; a trustee at Children’s Hospital; as chairman of the Family and Child Services Capital Campaign in 1990; a member of the Advisory Committee, Meyer Foundation; as a board member and chairman of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham; President of the Rotary Club of Birmingham; a director at Southern Research; chairman of the Business Partnership for Alabama School Reform; and trustee of The Newcomen Society of the United States and chairman of the Alabama Chapter.

His United Way activities are legendary. He is a member of the National Mega Gifts Committee of United Way and has been a director at United Way since 1974, serving as Chairman of the United Way campaign in 1978 and as President of United Way in 1986. In 1978, the United Way Board of Directors had decided the goal for the campaign would be a 5 percent increase over the previous year. But to better meet the community needs, the Board of Directors, at Rushton’s urging, raised the target to an 11 percent increase. The campaign went on to exceed the 11 percent target and produce the largest percentage of increase in giving in Birmingham’s United Way history.

His list of honors is equally long. He is a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor, and he is a Distinguished Eagle Scout, an honor reserved for Eagle Scouts who distinguish themselves in later life. He has received the “Good Neighbor Award” from the National Conference of Christians and Jews as well as the organization’s Brotherhood Award and is an Honorary Life Member of United Way.

Rushton’s wife, La Vona, of Oklahoma City, has been an able and willing companion since 1955. They have three sons, William J. Rushton IV, Deakins Ford Rushton, and Tunstall Perry Rushton, three daughters-in-law, and seven grandchildren.

Mrs. Rushton, an accomplished pianist, and “fabulous” grandmother has served as chair of the Symphony Ball, the Museum Ball, and the Birmingham Festival of Arts. The couple spends a month in Paris each year, and Billy says, “I work very hard at golf, and though I am not very good at it I am still optimistic.”

Rushton uses an old Irish proverb to describe his feelings about his own charitable giving:

“I have drunk from wells I never dug and been warmed by fires I never built.”

True perhaps, but Billy Rushton has provided spiritual drink for many and fueled the fires of giving throughout his distinguished lifetime.

Henry C. Goodrich

  • October 11th, 2021

Henry C. Goodrich has had four careers.

The first was as an engineer, beginning with the U.S. Navy in the Civil Engineering Corps. He then joined Rust Engineering Company, where he worked in design, construction, and management. Then he became chairman and CEO of Inland Container Corporation in Indiana, and then it was back to Birmingham to head up Southern Natural Gas. He was one of the founders of BE&K, which is now one of the largest engineering firms in the country. And along the way, he created Richgood, a venture capital and investment company, and the Goodrich Foundation, his charitable giving foundation oriented primarily toward needs in the Birmingham area. And through it all, Henry C. Goodrich has had a good time.

Henry Calvin Goodrich was born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, in 1920, the son of Dr. Charles Goodrich and Maude Baxter Goodrich. He attended grade school and high school in Fayetteville and studied pre-med at Erskine College. But he decided engineering was more his line and in 1939, he enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Two years later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war was going badly for the United States and its allies. Students were under pressure to finish their studies and join the war effort, and that’s exactly what Goodrich did. A year after Pearl Harbor he finished at UT, where he was chosen for both business and engineering honor fraternities and selected as president of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He finished his studies in 1942 and received his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1943.

After graduation, Goodrich enlisted in the Navy (he was already in the Naval Reserve) and was sent to Camp Perry, Virginia, a training area for Seabees. As a student at UT, he had met his future wife, Billie Grace, and the couple began making plans to marry. The wedding took place in Milan, Tennessee, on September 10, 1943. There was a quick one-night honeymoon and the couple headed back to Camp Perry. There was a period of training in Norfolk, Virginia, then a transfer to Monogram Field near Suffolk, Virginia. Goodrich began making plans to head overseas and Billie Grace returned to UT to finish her degree. His overseas duty was in Panama, where he served as an assistant public works officer at the naval air station.

In 1945, with the war winding down, Goodrich began looking for post-war employment and received a job offer from Daniel Construction Company in Birmingham to work as a field engineer on a new building in Gadsden, a job that would separate him from his wife and new son for long periods. But as luck would have it, while in Birmingham, he also stopped in to visit Rust Engineering, which also offered him a job. He explained the situation to Hugh Daniel, who understood the predicament. Goodrich went to work for Rust as a draftsman/ designer. In 1950 Goodrich moved from the drafting table to the sales office and began finding clients for Rust. As Goodrich began to “network” around Birmingham, business leaders began to recognize his talents and more invitations came his way to join the Birmingham Rotary Club, to become a director at Woodward Iron Company, to be on the board at Protective Life. The man from Tennessee had taken hold in Alabama.

In his first five years in sales at Rust, he brought on 64 contracts for Rust, and in 1956 he was named a vice president of the firm. In 1961 he was made a senior vice president and a member of the Rust board of directors, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company.

In 1967 Rust was sold to Litton Industries and Goodrich decided it was time to look for new challenges. He found them in the Hoosier State with Inland Container Corporation where he became executive vice president and director and moved his family to Indianapolis. One of his first moves at Inland was to build a new containerboard mill on the Tennessee River near ew Johnsonville, Tennessee, a state-of-the-art facility producing 300 tons per day of containerboard. The contract for the new plant went to Rust Engineering.

As he had in Birmingham, Goodrich sought out ways to serve Indianapolis as he had Birmingham, and he became active in several major civic activities. In 1969 he was elected president and chief executive officer of Inland. It was a busy time at Inland, but as always, Goodrich was never one to turn down an opportunity. So, when three old friends from Rust approached him to discuss starting an engineering firm, Goodrich listened. He agreed to help raise start-up money and in 1972, BE&K was born. In less than a year, the firm had landed a major contract and was on its way.

Inland continued to prosper and was on the Fortune 500 list. Goodrich was elected chairman of the board, and he began to spend more time at the family lake house on Lake Logan Martin near Birmingham and began to look for ways to make his exit from Inland. In 1978 Inland was acquired by Time, Inc. with Goodrich remaining in charge.

As Goodrich was relaxing at the Logan Martin Lakehouse, he received a call from John Shaw, president, and CEO of Southern Natural Resources, the huge Birmingham-based energy company on whose board Goodrich had served for seven years. At age 59, he was offered the job of president, and ultimately CEO, of Southern Natural Resources. Under Goodrich the company, renamed SONAT, set records for earnings, dividends increased and in 1981 Goodrich was named the top CEO in the gas pipelines industry.

In 1985 Goodrich retired from SONAT. Meanwhile, in Japan, the world’s largest enclosed semisubmersible offshore drilling rig was being constructed. And it was named the Henry Goodrich, for the chairman of SONAT Offshore (a SONAT subsidiary) and which was christened by Billie Grace Good rich.

Goodrich has held directorships in a host of companies, including SONAT, Inc., and subsidiaries; Time Incorporated, Ball Corporation, BE&K – Emeritus, Cousins Properties, Inc. – Emeritus, Temple-Inland Inc., Inland Steel, Indiana National Bank, Rust Engineering Company, and subsidiaries, Georgia-Kraft, Indiana Bell, BioCryst, Inc., Southern Research Technology, Protective Life Corporation, Woodward Iron Company, and Stokely-Van Camp.

His civic activities have included the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Birmingham, Community Chest of Indianapolis, Birmingham Council, Boy Scouts of America, Indian Springs School trustee, Salvation Army director, the University of Alabama at Birmingham President’s Council, director of Alabama Supercomputer Project, vice president and national trustee for the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and is registered as a professional engineer in 12 states. He is a member of the Newcomen Society and an emeritus member of the University of Tennessee Development Council, as well as a senior director for the UAB Research Foundation.

He received the Nathan W. Doughtery Award from the University of Tennessee College of Engineering and was Industry Man of the Year in Indianapolis in 1974. The following year he was named Papermaker of the Year by Pulp and Paper Magazine and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Butler University. In 1978 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from Marion College. Three years later, in 1981, he was chosen Best Chief Executive in Gas Industry. Two other honorary Doctor of Law degrees followed, from Birmingham-Southern College in 1985, and from UAB in 1986, the same year he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor and selected as one of 12 Outstanding Scientists and Engineers from Tennessee. He received the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1987 and was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 1991.

Bill L. Harbert

  • October 11th, 2021

Throw a dart at a map of the world and chances are you’ll hit a Bill Harbert construction project. Bill L. Harbert International Construction has been involved in projects ranging from renovating embassies in the Mideast to laying pipelines across South American rivers.

Bill LeBold Harbert, founder of Bill L. Harbert International Construction, based in Birmingham, was born in the Mississippi Delta in Indianola, Mississippi, on July 21, 1923, the son of John Murdoch Harbert and Mae Hamilton Schooling Harbert. His father was an engineer who moved his family to the Hollywood area of Birmingham in 1927, only to lose the home shortly thereafter in the Depression.

Harbert attended public schools in Birmingham, and eventually enrolled at Auburn University. World War II cut short his first trip to The Plains, however, and at age 20, in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry, K Company. He served in Europe from 1943 until 1946 and earned a Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious service. When Harbert returned to Alabama, he re-enrolled at Auburn University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1948. A few years later, in 1966, he attended the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.

Bill Harbert got his start building swimming pools in Jasper. As a veteran, he was able to buy construction equipment at cheap prices and he obtained a contract to construct a series of swimming pools and other athletic facilities. And there was an added bonus. It was in Jasper that he met his wife, Joy Patrick, who died earlier this year. They were married in 1952 after seven years of dating. The couple has three children, Anne Harbert Moulton, Elizabeth

Harbert Cornay and Billy L. Harbert, Jr.

In 1949, he and his brother, John, formed Harbert Construction Corporation and Bill managed the company’s construction operations, both foreign and domestic. He served as executive vice president until 1979 and as president and chief executive officer of Harbert International, Inc., from 1979 until July 1990. He served as Vice Chairman of the Board from 1990 until December 1991, at which time he bought a majority of the international operations of Harbert International, Inc. He currently serves as chairman and CEO of Bill Harbert International Construction, Inc.

While the focus of Bill Harbert International Construction, Inc. is overseas work, the company has expanded in the past decade and is involved in several construction projects within the United States.

The overseas work has included such high-profile projects as a retail podium and parking structure for the Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia, the world’s tallest building, a $200 million-plus project. The firm has renovated embassies or consular offices in Hong Kong, New Delhi, Tanzania, and a number of former Soviet republics. The company has also been a leader in building and expanding water supply systems and water treatment systems in such countries as the Democratic Republic of Sudan, Puerto Rico, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Panama. Harbert has also been involved in renovating and building multinational force and observer camps in the Sinai and in airbase construction in the Negev Desert. Closer to home, Bill Harbert International Construction projects include the new Hoover High School under construction off Valleydale Road in Shelby County, several military projects in the Southeast, the Alabama Institute for Manufacturing Excellence at The University of Alabama, and condominiums along the Gulf Coast. Bill Harbert has also devoted much time and resources to his industry and his community. He will take over as president of the International PipeLine Contractors Association next year, having served as director for several years and as 2nd vice president. He also has served as president and director of the PipeLine Contractors Association, U.S.A. He has been a member of the Construction Indus­ try Presidents Forum since 1992 and a trustee and co-chairman of the Laborers’

National Pension Fund since 1968.

His affiliations with community organizations include director of the Birmingham Metropolitan Development Board; Newcomen Society of North America, Director, SouthTrust Corporation from 1979 until 1996, a director of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce, a board member of the Health Services Foundation, and a board member at AMI Brookwood Medical Center. He attends Canterbury United Methodist Church and is a member of Vestavia Country Club (President, 1976) and Riverchase Country Club (President, 1980). He served as director for the Birmingham Ballet and was on the board of the YMCA. He has been a member of the Birmingham Kiwanis Club since 1980 and is a member of the Monday Morning Quarterback Club.

He is currently on the Supporters Board of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. He and his wife Joy recently made a $1 million gift to UAB to establish the Joy and Bill Harbert Endowed Chair in Cancer Genetics. Mrs. Harbert, who graduated from The University of Alabama, served on the UAB School of Nursing Board of Visitors. Harbert also created the Mae Schooling Harbert Fund for Residents in Training to honor his mother.

Bill Harbert has never been one to seek the limelight, but he has left his mark around the world, and he has distinguished himself in business and public service. His intelligence and compassion for others are well known from the deserts of the Mideast to the boardrooms of Birmingham.

Harbert maintains a very active role in his company and heads for the office each morning he is in Birmingham. He plays tennis every afternoon he is in town and likes to fish when the opportunity arises.

Frederic William Sington

  • October 6th, 2021

The name “Fred Sington” says it all.

Name an award, he received it. Name a charity, he helped it. Name a civic organization, he was a member. Name a sport, he excelled at it. In fact, one sports columnist went so far as to describe Sington as “almost a mythic sports figure,” and “a ubiquitous civic worker.”

Somewhere along the line, he became known as “Mr. Birmingham,” and no title has ever been more fitting. At one point, Sington estimated that he had been involved with as many as 200 civic and community activities over the years, but that is probably an underestimate.

Fred Sington was born in Birmingham, February 14, 1910, the son of Max and Hallye Spiro Sington. He attended Phillips High School where he was a four-year letterman in football, basketball, baseball, and track, and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He then attended The University of Alabama, where he was a member of Alabama’s 1931 Rose Bowl team and an All-American tackle for three straight years, as well as a three-year letterman and All-American in baseball. The big tackle was generally regarded as the best lineman in the entire country. He was a member of Zeta Beta Tau social fraternity, ODK, and Phi Beta Kappa. He was vice president of the student body, and in 1931 received both the Porter Award for Best Athlete and the PanHellenic Award for Best Student. And he was just getting started.

Following his graduation in 1931, he became an assistant football coach at Duke University before embarking on a distinguished career in professional sports. For the next 10 years, he played professional baseball with the Atlanta Crackers, the Washington Senators, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Following his playing days, he was an SEC official in football for 20 years.

When World War II began, Sington, of course, was there to help. He entered the Navy and served as a lieutenant junior grade from 1942 until 1946. He even coached the Oklahoma Navy Zoomers football team.

After the war, in 1947, Sington began his business career, Fred Sington Sporting Goods, opening a store in downtown Birmingham on Fifth Avenue North. His sporting goods business eventually spread into Homewood, Huntsville, Mountain Brook, Gadsden, Athens, and Scottsboro. In 1986 he sold his sporting goods business to Hibbett Sporting Goods but remained with the firm as a sales consultant.

Sington developed a reputation as a fine public speaker, which served him well as he became involved in the civic fiber of the city. He served on the Birmingham Civic Center Planning Committee, was chairman of the Downtown Birmingham YMCA, president of the Birmingham Kiwanis, and captain of the Monday Morning Quarterback Club. He was president of the Birmingham Football Foundation. At a meeting of the Hall of Fame directors, he proposed a Hall of Fame Bowl for Birmingham. The board agreed and the first Hall of Fame Bowl was played in Birmingham in 1977. The game later become the All-American Bowl and continued for several years. In 1972 he was president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. He belonged to the “A” Club, Grand Order of the Krewe, Masons, and Shriners.

He served as a board member for the Salvation Army, Sertoma Foundation, City Federal Savings, and Loan Association, Vulcan Life Insurance Company, Junior Achievement, and the Boy Scout Council. His service reached beyond the city limits, as he served as president of the Alabama State Fair Authority; a coach for the Alabama Mentally Retarded Olympics, president of The University of Alabama National Alumni Association; a member of the President’s Council, The University of Alabama; a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Racing Committee; and as state chairman of the Alabama Heart Fund in 1978. His professional memberships included serving as president and treasurer of the National Sporting Goods Association and as chairman of the organization’s Hall of Fame Committee.

Throughout his entire career he was recognized for the time and effort he gave on behalf of others. He was elected to the National Football Hall of Fame in 1955 and received The University of Alabama Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1967. In 1970 he was awarded the Pat Trammell Award for distinguished service to the University, and in 1972 was the Junior Achievement Man of the Year and was awarded the Erskine Ramsey Award for distinguished service to the Birmingham area. That same year he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and two years later, the Southern Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1976 The University of Alabama conferred on him the honorary degree, doctor of humane letters. In 1978 he was named Sertoma Man of the Hour.

Sington and his wife, Nancy, were married 62 years and were included in a book titled “Marriages Meant to Be,” which featured stories about 14 couples who met and married. The union produced three sons, Fred Jr., David, and Leonard, seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Fred Sington is remembered and recognized by many for his athletic and civic accomplishments, for his sense of humor, and for his love for his community. His memory is particularly cherished by the winners of the Sington Soaring Spirit Award, presented by The Lakeshore Foundation, which serves people with disabilities. The organization’s newsletter published a special tribute to Sington. The Sington Soaring Spirit Dinner, named in his honor, is held annually to help benefit children and adults with physical disabilities.

No doubt the Sington saga will be told and retold many times in the years to come.

Fred Sington is said to have had a slogan: “If you don’t swing, you can’t hit.” When it came to helping people, Fred Sington was Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron rolled into one.

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