John Montgomery Belk ’43

John Montgomery Belk ’43, noted business and civic leader and philanthropist, died August 17. He was born in Charlotte on March 29, 1920, to the late Mary Irwin Belk and William Henry Belk. He was chairman emeritus of Belk, Inc., the nation’s largest privately owned department store company that was founded by his father in Monroe, N.C. in 1888. Mr. Belk retired as chairman and chief executive officer of the company on May 26, 2004, after a distinguished career during which he served for fifty years as chief executive officer. Mr. Belk joined the company in 1945, following his service during World War II in the U.S. Army infantry. He began his career working in the Belk store in uptown Charlotte, and subsequently held key top management positions in the company’s central buying office organization, the predecessor of Belk Stores Services, Inc. He became president of the various Belk store corporations in the early 1950s and served at the helm of the company until his retirement. His leadership and vision during his tenure at the helm of Belk enabled the company to become one of the South’s most successful and respected retailers. John attended Charlotte public schools and McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., and received a bachelor of science degree in economics from Davidson College in 1943. Immediately following graduation from Davidson, he served in World War II in the U.S. Army infantry, attaining the rank of lieutenant. He was discharged in October 1945, but was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Throughout his career, Mr. Belk was involved in numerous activities to improve the business climate and the quality of life in Charlotte and the Carolinas. This included serving as president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in 1964, and serving as Mayor of the City of Charlotte from May 1969 to December 1977, one of the longest tenures of any mayor in Charlotte’s history. Under his leadership, Charlotte grew rapidly and emerged as a major financial and distribution center in the Southeast and a shining star among the nation’s cities. He was an avid promoter of Charlotte as a center for air travel and following his service as mayor served on the Charlotte Airport Advisory Committee and was its chairman in 1980. Among his many leadership positions, Mr. Belk was chairman of The Belk Foundation and a member of the board of directors and a past chairman of the National Retail Federation. He has held national leadership positions with the World Presidents Organization, the American Management Association and The Conference Board, and was a member of the board of directors of the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. During his career, he served as a director of a number of public corporations, including PMC, Inc., Wachovia Corporation, Quantum Chemical Corporation, Texas Industries, Inc., Lowe’s Companies, Inc., and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, Inc. Mr. Belk served on the board of visitors of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the North Carolina Council on Management and Development and was a former member of the board of trustees of Union Theological Seminary. He served for nearly fifty years as a member of the board of trustees of Davidson College. Additionally, Mr. Belk was a long-time member and former president of the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation, a member and former director of the Charlotte World Affairs Council, and served as honorary chairman of the USS Charlotte Commissioning Committee. In 1995, he established the John Montgomery Belk Scholarship program at Davidson College with a $28 million pledge, the largest gift ever to Davidson by an individual. Mr. Belk announced the creation of the Claudia W. Belk International Scholarship Fund at her alma mater, Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, on the occasion of her birthday on July 10, 2007. Long active in Scouting, he was a Distinguished Eagle Scout and had been awarded Scouting’s highest honors, including the Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, and Silver Buffalo awards. He was a past president of the Boy Scouts of America Southeast Region, and served on the Advisory Council of the BSA National Executive Board. In 1988, the BSA named him a Baden-Powell Fellow. The former Mayor received numerous local, state, and national awards for his business and civic achievements and contributions. They include: the Gold Medal Award from the National Retail Merchants Association in 1973; the North Carolina Distinguished Citizen Award from N.C. Governor James B. Hunt, Jr.; the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1981; the Citizen of the Carolinas Award from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in 1992; the University Award from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors in 1993; the World Citizen Award from the Charlotte World Affairs Council in 1997; the Excellence in Management Award from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte Rotary Club, and The Charlotte Business Journal in 1998. He was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame sponsored by the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry and Junior Achievement in 2000. In 1990, Davidson College dedicated the John M. Belk sports arena in recognition of his leadership and participation in sports at his alma mater. In 1981, the U.S. Interstate 277 loop around uptown Charlotte was named the John Belk Freeway in honor of his civic and community leadership. He was awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Johnson C. Smith University and Davidson College in 1980, and Queens University in 1998. In addition, he was an Elder at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, and a devoted member of the Rhodes Johnson Sunday School Class. He also was a member of the Masonic Order and the American Legion. He is survived by his wife of thirty-six years, Claudia Watkins Belk, 435 Hempstead Pl., Charlotte, N.C. 28207; daughter, Mary Claudia Belk Pilon (Jeffrey); three grandchildren, James M. Pilon, John M. Pilon, and Katherine B. Pilon; brothers, Irwin Belk ’45 and Henderson Belk ’45; sister, Sarah Belk Gambrell; and niece Katherine Belk Morris ’04. He was preceded in death by his brothers, William H. Belk, Jr.’38 and Thomas M. Belk ’46.