January 22, 2013

‘The best disciple’

Elbert Shaw helped build Shaw Industries and Dalton

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— No single person had as much influence on the success of Shaw Industries as Elbert Shaw, said Executive Vice President Julius Shaw.

Elbert Shaw started with Shaw Industries in human resources in 1972 and retired from the company in 1996.

“When Elbert came here, we were a relatively small company. But in the late ‘70s and ‘80s and early ‘90s we grew at a very rapid rate,” said Julius Shaw, who is Elbert’s cousin. “Throughout that growth, Elbert was our main recruiter. He was hiring both for our expanding sales force and our management trainees and engineering and production. He did it all, and he must have hired hundreds if not thousands of people.”

Elbert Shaw passed away over the weekend at the age of 91.

“I sent an email out at 8 o’clock Sunday night announcing that Elbert had passed away to 50 or 60 people. Within 15 minutes, I received over two dozen responses, and I got another dozen or so overnight,” Julius Shaw said. “Each one of them had a story about something that Elbert did for them.”

Scott Humphrey, director of the Shaw Flooring Network, said Elbert Shaw went out of his way to make potential employees feel comfortable when he interviewed them.

“At a time when a lot of companies were stressing you and actually trying to make you fail the interview, he’d try to help you succeed,” Humphrey said. “He’d come in and say ‘I’m Elbert G. Shaw, but you can call me Elbert. Can I take your jacket? Can I get you something to drink?’ That shocked some people.”

Elbert Shaw didn’t just recruit the young college graduates to come to Dalton. He personally welcomed them and tried to make them feel at home once hired.

“He made it his business to personally know each and every trainee that came to Dalton. I was just in a meeting with a man named Bob Hardaway, who came to us as a trainee,” Julius Shaw said. “He drove into town and pulled up to his apartment and there to meet him and help him move in was Elbert Shaw.”

Kevin Sanders, now vice president of Shaw Hospitality Group, met Elbert Shaw in 1983, just after graduating from the University of Tennessee.

“He was a real friend. He was someone who was always asking what he could do for you,” Sanders said. “My wife went through breast cancer at 24 years of age, and he was probably the first person at the hospital. If I ever had anyone in the hospital, Elbert was always there in the waiting room, to pray for the family and to show his concern. But he didn’t do that just for me. He did it for so many people in this community. He had a lot of the good Lord in him. He was passionate about being a good Christian, and he was the best disciple. Whether you knew him for 30 years or were just a passing acquaintance, he wanted to help you.”

Shaw served as a groomsman in Humphrey’s wedding.

“That was unique. He was so much older than me, but he was one of my best friends. Our mutual faith had a lot to do with that. But it was also because of Elbert’s sincerity,” Humphrey said. “He was a mentor, a friend, a leader and an example. We have three core values at Shaw: honesty, integrity and passion. Nobody exemplified those qualities more than Elbert Shaw. Nine of the divisional vice presidents we have in our company right now were hired by him.”

Shaw was born in Cartersville on Aug. 13, 1921, the son of the late Elbert G. and Genevieve Shaw. He came to Dalton to serve a residency in hospital administration at Hamilton Memorial Hospital, now Hamilton Medical Center. He began working at Shaw Industries in 1972 and retired 24 years later at the age of 75.

“He retired because he wanted to spend more time with his family and more time giving back to this community, not because he wanted to slow down,” said Julius Shaw.

One of his major interests was the Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC), which was named for him in 2007.

“He started volunteering at the RYDC in 1976, I think. He told me he felt led by God to minister to youth, and he had such a heart for those kids,” said RYDC Director Bobby Hughes.

“He established our first Tuesday night church group, which is still going strong today. After he retired, he came and worked here about three days a week, mentoring the kids individually. He sent kids to camp. He bought clothes for those who needed it. If they had a death in the family or some other tragedy, he was always the first to visit with them,” Hughes said.

He said Shaw had a tremendous impact on the children at the RYDC.

“We’d be at lunch, and grown men would come up to him that he’d met 25 years earlier and they’d tell him how much he’d changed their lives,” Hughes said. “He was like a family member, not just to the kids but to the staff. If someone on the staff was in the hospital or had some sort of long-term illness, he visited with them. He was good to all of us.”

Julius Shaw said Elbert Shaw had an impact even on those who didn’t know him.

“He had a God-given talent for finding good people. He brought a lot of good people to Dalton and helped them make this town their home, and when you have good people, that attracts other good people,” he said.

A service for Shaw will be held at Christ Church Presbyterian at 11 a.m. on Thursday. The volunteers and staff of the RYDC are asked to serve as honorary pallbearers. The family will receive friends in the Fellowship Hall of the church immediately following the service.

Burial will be in Whitfield Memorial Gardens.