B. Frank Matthews II, age 95, died peacefully at his home on January 24, 2023. A native of Gastonia, born October 7, 1927, Frank was the youngest of five children of the late Elizabeth Robinson Matthews and James Houston Matthews, Sr. He was preceded in death by the love of his life, Betty Choate Matthews, to whom he was married for 63 years; his daughter, Harriet Matthews Jackson; and his grandson, Franklin Matthews Jackson. Also preceding him are his siblings: Sarah Robinson Matthews, Elizabeth Matthews Welton, Eugene Robinson Matthews, and James Houston Matthews, Jr.; his brothers-in-law, Joseph Leighton Choate III and David G. Welton, M.D.; and his sisters-in-law, Annabelle Matthews Royster and Betsy Merritt Choate Sherard.
Growing up in a department store family, Frank learned from a young age the benefits of hard work, integrity, and perseverance and loved hearing the story of Mr. William Henry Belk sending his father to Gastonia to revamp and open the first Matthews-Belk store in the early 1900s. After the first store gained traction, Houston Matthews, Sr., along with his brothers and the Belk family, opened 18 stores in North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, Middle Georgia, and Texas. In Howard Covington’s 1988 book Belk, he wrote, “None of Belk’s partners had been with him longer than the Matthews brothers. They exemplified the loyalty of the partners to Henry Belk and the family style that characterized the Belk operation.”
In addition to working in the family business, Frank spent happy childhood summers at Camp Morehead on Bogue Sound (Morehead City, NC), where he developed his love of sailing. He attended Gastonia City Schools through the 9th grade, then followed his two older brothers to The McCallie School (Chattanooga, TN) and graduated in 1945. From there, he entered Davidson College, graduating in 1949 with his Bachelor of Science in Business (BSB) and was a proud Kappa Alpha. He ran on the track team at both McCallie and Davidson, and he also learned to fly an airplane at Buck’s Flight School while at McCallie. Frank served his country in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1949-1965, commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and honorably discharged as a Captain.
Frank remained a loyal, involved alumnus of McCallie and Davidson, two institutions he credited throughout his life for shaping him, reinforcing his Christian values, and deepening his faith.
After graduating from Davidson in 1949, Frank joined the Matthews-Belk Stores full time with his brother, Houston Matthews, Jr., and sister, Elizabeth Matthews. He rose through the ranks of the Belk organization and held the positions of Executive Vice President & Supervising Partner, President, and Vice Chairman. Frank also served on numerous Belk Store corporations from the early 1950s until all store entities consolidated in 1998. Upon the completion of that merger, he became Vice Chairman of Belk, Inc., the nation’s largest privately-owned department store until its sale in 2015. Frank provided many years of exceptional leadership to the Belk Stores.
Frank counted himself fortunate to have worked alongside all of William Henry Belk’s children-John, Tom, Ike, Sarah, and Henderson-in building the Belk corporation. He had the deepest respect for the Belk family and felt privileged to have worked so closely with John Belk and Tom Belk; he enjoyed their partnership and friendship throughout the years. He also had the honor of working with the Belk family’s third generation as they continued the tradition of great leadership.
Frank was also a Director of The Belk Foundation, which provides financial support to many educational institutions in the Carolinas and throughout the Southeast. After his retirement from Belk, he turned his attention to developing family legacy property in the Charlotte region with developers Childress Klein and Crosland Southeast on Waverly (Southeast Charlotte), Beacon Partners on The Square (SouthEnd), and The Keith Corporation on Kings Mountain Corporate Center.
Though much of his energy was dedicated to his retail career with Belk, Inc., he always found time for his church, family, and community. He followed the example of his parents with lifelong membership in Gastonia’s First Presbyterian Church where he served as Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Superintendent, Sunday School Teacher, Youth Advisor with wife Betty, and later as Elder Emeritus. Frank was also devoted to the growth and betterment of Gaston County and made his mark in innumerable ways. He helped organize the Gastonia Development Corporation and was a director of two publicly traded companies listed on the NYSE: Public Service Company of North Carolina, Inc. and Ti-Caro, Inc. Frank was a Director and Chairman of Gaston Federal Bank-predecessor of Citizen South Bank-for more than 36 years.
Frank recognized a strong community has a strong non-profit network, and he served on the boards of the United Way of Gaston County and Gaston County Family YMCA. He was a Director of Gaston Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of Gaston Community Foundation, and Chairman of First Gaston Foundation and The David Belk Cannon Foundation. The Matthews family believed in the power of education for personal and community growth, and he served as a Trustee at both Davidson College and Chatham Hall (Chatham, VA). At Davidson, he was on the Board of Advisors, then served 12 years as a Trustee and chaired the Regional Campaign (1992-1995) as part of the Campaign for Davidson. He also chaired the Annual Fund at various points and received Davidson’s Alumni Service Award in 1987. He was later honored as Trustee Emeritus.
Frank received numerous community awards through the years such as the Duke Kimbrell Lifetime Civic Achievement Award (Jaycees), the Allen H. Sims Award (Gaston Community Foundation), the Gaston Literacy Lifetime Achievement designation, and The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award.
Frank is survived by his children: Eugene R. Matthews II and wife, Katherine (Gastonia, NC); and Mary Matthews Vaughn and husband, Vernon, (Gastonia, NC); four grandchildren: Peter Kemp Jackson II (Aiken, SC); Benjamin Franklin Matthews III and wife, Melanie (Charlotte, NC); Katherine Matthews Darling and husband, Edward (Charlotte, NC); and Elizabeth Vaughn Edwards and husband, Duke (Greenville, NC); and six great grandchildren. Also surviving are his nieces: Annabelle Matthews Kelly and husband, Bill (Gastonia, NC); Nora Matthews Hale and husband, Alfred (Rome, GA); and Alice Stowe Matthews, wife of the late Vann M. Matthews II (Gastonia, NC); and his nephews: William Merritt Choate and wife, Marcy (Charlotte, NC); and The Reverend J. Houston Matthews III and wife, Sharon (Gastonia, NC).
The family thanks the following for their care and support through the years: Ronald Digby, M.D., Dustin Letts, M.D., and their CaroMont Health teams; Covenant Village personnel; loyal caregivers, Kathy Watkins, Connie Burnette, Joreida Currence, Marveta Mason, and Faye Tate; longtime helper and friend, Charlie Holmes; and business associate and friend of more than 50 years, Margaret Caldwell.
A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, January 28, 2023, at First Presbyterian Church, 1621 E. Garrison Blvd., with The Reverend Daniel J. Commerford and The Reverend J. Houston Matthews III officiating. A reception will follow immediately in Fellowship Hall. A private service of committal will be held for the family at Oakwood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to First Presbyterian Church, 1621 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia, NC 28054 or to Covenant Village Benevolent Fund, 1351 Robinwood Rd., Gastonia, NC 28054.
Condolence messages and memories of Frank may be shared with his family at www.mcleanfuneral.com.
McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the family of Mr. Matthews.