Tommy Ariail speaks after receiving the Southern Textile Association's Steve Epps Lifetime Service Award in 2016. (Photo by Devin Steele)

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Tommy Ariail, his daughter Lisa Oehmig and grandson-in-law Andrew Barker – all past presidents of the Southern Textile Association. (Photo by Devin Steele)

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Tommy Ariail and his daugher Lisa Oehmig at an STA Board of Governor's meeting. (Photo by Devin Steele)

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Tommy Ariail speaks after receiving the Southern Textile Association's Steve Epps Lifetime Service Award in 2016. (Photo by Devin Steele)

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Steady Tommy

Take heed of Ariail’s legacy, lessons

Posted August 5, 2021


You often cross paths with people in life and don’t realize the true value they brought to this world and the people in their sphere until they’re gone. You assume they’ll always be around, and you may even take for granted the little things – which really are big things – that made them special.


Tommy Ariail was one of those people.


Tommy, who spent a lifelong career in our amazing textile industry, died unexpectedly on July 25.


The news of his passing shook many in the industry who knew him, especially those longtime members of the Southern Textile Association (STA), a beloved part of his life and a group he was a part of for 60 years.


I knew Tommy about 25 years through the STA, not nearly as long as some of those who offered condolences and memories of him on this page. But I couldn’t agree more with a truism shared in a conversation I had this week with retired textile executive Steve Adams, who knew him for nearly five decades. “He never changed the entire time I knew him,” he told me.


Indeed. Tommy was the same affable, genteel person when he left us as he was the day I met him. Adams called him a “Southern gentleman,” and I would only add that he was a Southern gentleman’s gentleman. Always polite, courteous, engaged, sharp, in the moment and on top of whatever conversation in which he was engaged – and a great listener, one of his many endearing qualities. He truly was interested in what was going on in the world of the person with whom he was talking.


He was never flashy, never boisterous, never ostentatious.


He was just Steady Tommy.


Always there.


Always present.


Always Tommy.


Especially when you needed a friend. Or someone to just listen.


Something we all may take for granted from time to time.


When speaking with his family and friends over the last few days and attending his funeral last Friday, I learned of Tommy’s “list.” Those were the people he would call on a regular basis, just to say hello and to catch up with the latest happenings. Textile colleagues. Family members. Former ministers at his beloved church, Arcadia United Methodist. Even someone he and his late wife had met on an Alaskan cruise.


Apparently, the list was extensive, but he made calling them a priority in his daily routine. His daughter, Lisa Ariail Oehmig, and her siblings found those lists – many of them – of things to do and people to call beside his chair after he passed away – all written in pencil. And pencils were abundant all over the house, she said – and one pencil sharpener. On the list to call the following week after his passing were Adams and Giles Beal, the owner of the last company at which he worked, Beal Manufacturing.


Beal and Adams didn’t make the call rotation due to his untimely passing, but someone who did was Jim Booterbaugh, president & CEO of National Spinning Co., a few weeks before his death. Booterbaugh recalled: “We talked about our families, and he mentioned how blessed he was to have such a wonderful family. He also commented on all the wonderful relationships he developed in the textile industry over the years and how he considered those textile friends his other family.”


Wow. To be on “The Tommy Ariail Call List” was a blessing, for sure.


And I would like to posit that that effort to stay in touch was part of Tommy’s long-lasting legacy – just keeping up with old friends, colleagues and acquaintances – through old-school CALLING. No texting, no social media, just picking up the phone and dialing.


We should all think about the impact that made on those in his “circle,” and consider making that part of our modus operandi going forward. Pandemic or not, lockdowns or not, Facebook or not, wouldn’t that be a terrific way of keeping close ties with those who mean something in your lives? Who knows what you might learn or how you might become a better ally or friend through conversation, commiseration or communication with those who mean something to you? It can certainly help tighten bonds, reignite relationships or just brighten others’ worlds.


Perhaps more important to his legacy is the testament to the true man Tommy was in the area of character and demeanor. His daughter Lisa shared with me what her daughter Ariail Barker thought of her grandfather: “Ariail always said that Paw Paw did the right thing when nobody was looking. He didn’t do anything for somebody to know he did it.”


To wit: “One of his neighbors came by and was crying (when he learned of Tommy’s passing),” said Lisa Oehmig, who like two of her siblings followed her father’s footsteps and joined the textile industry, and has been with Glen Raven for many years. “He said that his parents, who had a wheelchair ramp, noticed that the newspaper was put behind the front door so they didn’t have to take the ramp down to get it. He said they didn’t know who did it for the longest time. But he said he happened to be staying with them one time when he saw my Dad on one of his daily walks take the paper up to the door for them. I think that’s his legacy and what people should remember. He wasn’t looking for the accolades. He just did the right thing when nobody was looking. His motives were pure.”


And Tommy’s biggest legacy? His children and grandchildren, of course, and now his great-grandson, 1-year-old Matterson Gray Barker. Ariail Barker, whose husband Andrew Barker was the third generation of the family to serve as STA president after Tommy and Lisa – gave her firstborn child her grandfather’s middle name, “Matterson,” who Tommy Ariail was “honored” to have named after him, Lisa said.


So, what have I learned from Tommy Ariail? Never take for granted those in your midst who do the “quiet” things that make the biggest difference. Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. Spend time getting to know those who paved the path for you. Learn from them. Be with them. Keep in touch with them. And do the right thing when no one is looking.


RIP, Tommy. You done good. And in your honor, we all will, too.

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Tommy tributes

Tommy was a gentle giant of a man whose impact will be felt well beyond the Upstate of South Carolina. He was a man of God whose involvement at Arcadia UMC spanned some 60 years and was all-encompassing. He cared deeply about STA and the textile industry, as illustrated through his decades-long career in the industry, bookended by teaching and mentoring in his later years.


He was always quick to check in on how things were going in business and always held those of us in STA leadership accountable. Tommy's wisdom spanned all aspects of life. Family was paramount for Tommy and his impact will live on through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as those he influenced in the community, the church and through his service at ARCH Ministries.


Andrew Barker

Executive Vice President, Matrix Yarns, Inc.

Tommy Ariail’s grandson-in-law and past STA president




(My wife) Jennifer and I have been very fortunate to have met Tommy Ariail. Having worked with him was an added bonus! Tommy was always positive and made it easy to always do the right thing, every time. Since his retirement he has continued to stay in touch and encourage us in every way. Last week was especially tough because it was his normal, scheduled time to call.


Giles Beal

Beal Manufacturing




A few weeks before his passing, Tommy called me out of the blue just to chat. We talked about our families, and he mentioned how blessed he was to have such a wonderful family. He also commented on all the wonderful relationships he developed in the textile industry over the years and how he considered those textile friends his other family. He also reminded me that he first met me at an ITT conference in the ’90s, and I used a phrase that he leaned on throughout his career: "In God we trust, all others bring data."


Jim Booterbaugh

President & CEO

National Spinning Co.
Past STA president


Tommy is the one who got me involved in STA and was always a friend. All of the comments from the contributors of your Tommy article were right on. He and I had a little saying we shared together when we would see each other. We would say, “Rule No. 1”. This came about when we were attending an ITT (Institute of Textile Technology) workshop on MJS spinning, and participants were asked to establish the ground rules for sharing comments in the workshop. Rule No. 1 was established, and it was simply: “Is it the truth?” I guess we felt like no one should exaggerate what they were doing concerning MJS spinning. From then on, Tommy and I would greet each other by saying, “Rule # 1.” 


Lyman Hamrick

Hamrick Mills

Past STA president


Brenda and I knew Tommy for nearly five decades and he was truly a “Southern gentleman!” He was one of my favorite people of all time. He would call me at least once a quarter to talk about everything. He was an amazing guy. He was a people person and people really loved him. And he loved STA. Please accept our deepest sympathy and condolences to Lisa and the family.


Steve Adams

Seydel-Woolley (retired)

Longtime STA member



I met Tommy at an STA meeting around 1989. He was always so gracious and helpful to me at STA, and he was fun to be around. He was just a joy to be around. I would ask him for advice often, and he was always so helpful. He was a really great guy who will be missed tremendously.


George Abbott

Inman Mills (retired)

Past STA president



I remember Tommy so well.  He was always so supportive of STA and very loyal and dedicated. He had such a distinctive laugh and he was always someone you could count on. He will be missed.


Max Huntley

Parkdale (retired)

Past STA president



Tommy loved STA as much as I do. He would often see things about the industry or STA in the news and he would always reach out to say, “hey, good job.” He was very dedicated to the association, and we were blessed that he stayed involved in STA after he retired.


Rick Carpenter

Sales manager, Conitex Sonoco USA

Current STA president



I was saddened to hear of Tommy’s passing. He was the kindest person I ever was associated with. He always was such an inspiration to everyone he ever met. I always enjoyed talking to him about fine count yarns as he always asked me when I was still working, “what is the finest yarn count you are spinning?” When I answered, he always had a smile and we talked about textiles and yarns as well as our careers. Such a fine man that we all will miss tremendously.


Russell Mims

Buhler Quality Yarns (retired)

Past STA president