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Ageless giant, gentleman, gem – George Abbott left indelible mark on textiles, friends

Editor's note: Anyone who would like to share their memories of Abbott and condolences for a tribute next week, please send email here.

Posted January 6, 2022


By Devin Steele


George Abbott, a friend to many who spent 54 years in the textile industry before his retirement in 2018, died unexpectedly on Monday, January 3.


Abbott, whose passion for the industry and the Southern Textile Association is unmatched, made a lasting impact on those who knew him. To Abbott, every day was a full day – full of positivity, fervor and adventure. If you asked him how he was doing, he answered only one way – regardless the kind of day he may be having. “I’m terrific!” he would answer … every single time.


An N.C. State graduate, Abbott served as vice president of manufacturing at fabric maker Inman Mills, Inman, S.C., for 30 years. In the early 2000s when the industry was facing turmoil along with many of its industry brethren, he helped build trust among employees being forced to change in order for the company to regain its footing. He was always inquisitive and interested in trying new yarns and processes in order to advance the company’s capabilities.


While his contributions to Inman Mills were enormous, the legacy he leaves the STA is equally awe-inspiring. Truth be told, Abbot was probably the biggest difference maker in the recent history of the 114-year-old association, as he was responsible for recruiting more members to the association than anyone over the last 15 or so years.


In 2006, the U.S. textile industry was struggling to stay afloat, and organizations such as the STA were facing similar hurdles. During the downturn, the association dropped more than 200 members, and membership was at an all-time low. Leadership was evaluating whether or not the association was going to survive.


But Abbott would have none of that talk, not without trying something radical. On the verge of assuming the STA presidency, he called a strategy session that was led by Bob Barnhardt, the former dean of the College of Textiles at N.C. State, and brought in the STA Board of Governors to reflect on how the group was performing. They looked at what the STA was doing well and what it needed to change to bring more value to members.


From that session, the STA underwent some consolidation and realignment of programs. Membership was expanded to include other sectors of the textile/apparel industry and geographically to include more members from other states.


And just as importantly, Abbott challenged everyone to go out and get new members. He said, “If each of you can go out and find five people that are in this industry who aren’t associated with STA, then our membership is going to grow.” He also asked, “How hard is that to go find five people?”


Thanks to his leadership efforts, membership began to grow … and grow ... and grow during his term as president. Abbott, in his own time, made many phone calls to prospects, and preached the STA gospel to anyone who would listen when he was out and about. All told, the STA added about 100 new members to its rolls, during a time of continued uncertainty for the industry.


At the STA’s 111th Annual Meeting on Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 2018, Abbott – affectionately called “Mr. STA” by many of his colleagues in the association – was presented the inaugural George Abbott Membership Award – named in his honor, of course, conceived to go to the person who recruits the most members each year. Abbott was completely shocked.


“You really surprised me with this,” Abbott said, in receiving the honor. “This is so precious. Now, I’m now going to try to win this thing again next year! That will be my retirement job.”


During the ceremony, then-STA Second Vice President and current President Rick Carpenter of Conitex Sonoco presented the award to Abbott and asked the audience this: “Raise your hand if George Abbott was instrumental in getting you involved in this organization?” he said “George, look around the room. See how many people who have had an impact on.”


Later, Abbott said: “I’m going say what I’ve said many times before: This is a family. I love STA.”

The year prior, Abbott was honored with the STA’s David Clark Award. In accepting the honor, he said in his Eastern North Carolina brogue, “I have been so blessed to work in an industry that I totally love for 54 years. And it has been an honor to be a member of the STA family for the last 28 years. I love this organization, just like you do. We are something special.”

Abbott also was a longtime active member of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance (SCMA).


More details on arrangements and an obituary will forthcoming.

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