Louis Garrou ’41

Louis William Garrou, 100, of Morganton, a man of grace, honor, humor and affection, died Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, at his home, in Grace Ridge Senior Community in Morganton.

He is survived by his children, John L. W. Garrou (Linda), Elizabeth G. Furr (James) and Albert L. Garrou (June); grandchildren, Eleanor G. Rubin (Cliff) and Margaret Garrou (John Fitzgibbon); and four great-grandchildren, Charlotte and Griffin Rubin and Liam and Emmett Fitzgibbon.

Louis was born April 6, 1920, in Burke County, a son of Albert F. and Louise Holloway Garrou. One of six children, he and his twin, Leith, were inseparable in their youth, and enjoyed annoying their family and friends with their innocent, and sometimes less than innocent, pranks. Despite their best efforts, their girlfriends (and their mother) could always tell them apart. Louis and his brother graduated from Darlington School in 1937 and attended Davidson College before Louis transferred to Lenoir-Rhyne College to be with his new bride, Betty Bowles, whom he had married in 1939 and who attended the college.

After college and after years of summer employment, Louis was employed full time at Waldensian Hosiery Mills in a career, interrupted by service in World War II, that continued until his retirement as president and chief executive officer in 1974 and as Chairman of the Board of the successor company, Alba-Waldensian, Inc. in 1985. Louis served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945 and was stationed in England and, after the German surrender, in various posts in Germany, where he happily took charge of the restoration of a German brewery, a task that he believed was only slightly less momentous in repairing relations between the U.S. and its former enemy than was the Marshall Plan.

While serving in England, Louis learned of the ultimately fatal illness of his twin, Leith; in a life remarkably free of such tragedy, an event that he was never able to speak of without emotion.

After his discharge, Louis returned to his young family in Valdese, and resumed his career at Waldensian Hosiery Mills, succeeding his father as president in 1962 and as Chairman in 1974. After many years of expansion and prosperity for the business, the latter portion of his career was marked by an unending battle to diversify the company away from its traditional reliance on men’s and women’s hosiery in the face of relentless price competition from imported product.

From the late sixties until his retirement, he focused continually on expanding the company’s product lines in directions such as patented specialty health care products that provided higher margins and rewards for innovation in order to try to weather the competitive forces that were devastating the domestic industry.

Most significantly, he led the company’s development of the world’s first anti-embolism pulsating stocking, which was highly effective in preventing blood clots in hospital patients. Versions of the stocking are still in use and are critically important in the care of bed-bound hospital patients in preventing severe and often fatal embolisms.

Always a man of his word, he was proud of his reputation in the industry that agreements could be based on a handshake and were always to be honored. Louis was devoted to the business, but especially to its employees, and felt keenly the impact on individuals and the community of the inevitable closure of local manufacturing businesses, including some 15 years after his retirement, Alba-Waldensian.

He forgot much in old age, but he never forgot the number of employees at his retirement (1640), so many of whom he knew and admired, and felt with great regret the loss of jobs—thought to have provided lifetime security—by them and thousands of their friends and relatives in the area.

Louis was selected, “Man of the Year” by the Textile School of N.C. State University in 1966, was a director of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers, the North Carolina Textile Foundation, the North Carolina Citizens Association, the Bank of Granite, Valdese General Hospital and was appointed North Carolina Ambassador at Large by Governor James B. Hunt Jr. and accompanied the governor on a trade mission to Japan and China in 1979.

He served as a trustee of Lees-McRae College, Montreat-Anderson College, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, and Western Piedmont Community College Foundation and was instrumental in founding the United Way of Burke County.

He served as a deacon and elder of the Waldensian Presbyterian Church, as president of the Valdese Rotary Club and was a Rotary Harris Fellow. Louis loved his family, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his undoubtedly unique ancestry—Revolutionary and Civil War veterans on one side and Waldensian immigrants on the other. He pretended to be fluent in the Waldensian patois, but if truth be told, was suspected to be largely faking it.

He was an amateur pilot and aviation buff, spending many happy hours aloft in a sail plane and powered aircraft in his retirement. His home movies usually contained tracking shots of clouds or blue sky containing a tiny speck, which the viewer was assured, contained an unusual or important aircraft.

A lover of classical music, he played violin in his youth and in retirement, he learned piano and took music courses at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Appalachian State and Gaston Community College, where he studied composition and had an orchestral work performed by a student orchestra. His life was joyful, his spirit, playful and his ethic, honorable.

His devotion to his wife of 79 years, Betty, was total and unvarying; yet, after her death In 2018, his grief was tempered by a spirit of contentment and gratitude for her life, his own and that of his family.

Betty and Louis spent many of their last years in their cottage at Grace Ridge. As they aged, they were increasingly and, toward the end of their lives, almost completely reliant on the care and concern of their daughter, Elizabeth, for which they were profoundly grateful.

Age weakened Louis in mind and body, but never in the love of life and those surrounding him. Without complaint and always pleasant and warm to friends, family and strangers, he faced the struggles of age with wit and humor. Happy to see visitors, they were always happy to see him. Now, in the words of his caregiver and friend, Kerry: “he done made it home.”

A family graveside service will be held followed by a memorial service at Waldensian Presbyterian Church to be scheduled in the future.

Memorials to Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Community Assistance Ministry or Food Pantry, 109 Main St. East, Valdese, NC 28690; Baptist Global Response, online or by check to Send Relief, P.O. Box 117246, Atlanta, GA 30368; or Rock School Arts Foundation, P.O. Box 837, Valdese, NC 28690, will be gratefully received.


Published by The News Herald on Dec. 18, 2020.