CROSSING THE FINISH LINE
Friends, colleagues remember Preston Aldridge
Posted September 22, 2021
By Devin Steele
Preston Aldridge, who died suddenly at age 79 on September 14, is remembered by his friends and colleagues in the U.S. textile industry as a Southern gentleman and a true professional who made a tremendous impact on the industry and those who crossed his path. He was a friend, mentor and resource to many.
Aldridge, a renowned expert in textile finishing, spent his 60-plus-year career helping to modernize that sector and make it cleaner, greener and less wasteful. Most recently, he served as sales engineer at FTA, Inc., based in Inman, S.C.
As noted in his obituary, “Through his passion for chemistry and love for building relationships, Preston was a trailblazer in the textile industry. While technically he sold machines that applied dye to fabric, extracted the excess water and then prepared the finished goods, one could say what he really sold his customers was his word. Whenever Preston spoke, his colleagues could depend on him to be transparent, truthful and kind. Even when he was delivering bad news or did not win the bid, he would end his conversation with a smile and a warm handshake.”
During a two-hour, two-part, interactive talk at the Southern Textile Research Conference (STRC) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., two years ago, he presented, “Evolution of Chemical Applicators for Textiles – An Historical Review of Chasing Water.” He talked about how the textile industry in the dyeing and finishing area evolved over the years. He plunged into how the industry has handled the “water issue,” outlining that it has had to “wring it out, pound it out, squeeze it out, spray it out, ‘kiss’ it out (with kiss rolls), ‘foam’ it out and ‘plasma’ it out.” He went on to say that he helped eliminated water through applicators in his lifetime.
“You’re living in an exciting time it this industry because things can change so incredibly fast now,” said Aldridge, a member of the Southern Textile Association’s Board of Governors.
He added later: “What I would love for you to take away from this talk is to go back and apply the enthusiasm that whatever it is you’re working on that I still have for this industry. Somebody asked me, ‘why don’t you retire?’ I said, ’I did. I retired about 20 years ago. I sat down and tried to figure out what I wanted to do when I retired, and I discovered I was already doing it. I have relationships with people, and the travel allows me to see my grandkids more than I would see them if I was sitting at home. I wouldn’t take anything for the opportunity this industry has offered me. Take some of that back and apply enthusiasm to whatever it is you’re working on that’s driving you nuts in your job. Enthusiasm opens up the pores in your brain, and with that, things might start clicking together a little bit better.”
With such an impactful career and life, we wanted to open our pages to comments from those who knew Aldridge – and he knew thousands of people in the textile industry.
Editor’s note: eTC Publisher Devin Steele has been interviewing Aldridge for a biography this year, and interviews and background work for the book were not completed. As such, anyone who knew Preston and would like to help fill in the gaps with stories, anecdotes and background of this incredible human being and difference maker, please send an email to schedule an interview here.
I started working with Preston in the mid-1980s and early 1990s when I was with Hoechst and later as Hoechst Celanese. Hoechst was very successful in selling liquid reactive dyes for dyeing cotton continuously and by pad batch procedures. Controlling the wet pick-up was critical to the success of these procedures. During this time we worked with Preston, who was with Kuesters and also their division of EVAC, which produced vacuum extraction equipment for continuous scouring and bleaching and finishing equipment. This vacuum extraction equipment helped us be more successful in controlling the proper amount of reactive dyes and chemicals which were applied to the scoured / bleached / dyed / finished fabrics.
I also worked with Preston on the installation of the largest four-stage continuous bleach range that was ever installed in the U.S. This was at West Point Stevens (West Point Home) in Opelika, Ala. This was a large sheeting plant that had preparation, dyeing, printing and finishing equipment. Our company (Cognis at the time) was given the opportunity to set up the scouring and bleaching auxiliaries for this bleach range. This range had four stages of desizing, caustic scouring, mercerization and bleaching. You could also do greige heat setting of polyester / cotton blends at the entry end of this bleach range. This range could run 120-inch-wide fabrics.
The initial plan was for this range to run at 250 yards/minute for polyester/cotton fabrics and at 200 yards/minute for 100% cotton fabrics. We were never able to run this equipment at the top range, but we ran this piece of equipment successfully for many years until the plant closed in 2007. Very early when this piece of equipment was being installed, the preparation manager gave this piece of equipment a new name of "Big Mama," which should have been preparation range 4. As far as I know, this was the largest piece of preparation equipment ever installed in the U.S. Preston was part of the installation and successful running of this piece of preparation equipment.
Also in the mid-1980s, I started attending the STRC (Southern Textile Research Conference). Preston was an active member of this association for many years. He was given a two-hour time slot in our last conference in 2019 to discuss a lot of his work in textile sustainability to save time, water, energy and reduce costs in the textile industry. We were considering inviting him to speak again at our next conference in 2022.
One of the more recent topics that Preston was working on was equipment for processing denim in a more sustainable way to substantially reduce the amount of water, dyestuffs and chemicals used to dye and finish cotton yarn and finish denim fabrics. He was working with indigo dye suppliers such as DyStar and machinery companies, including Morrison Textile Machinery, Gaston Systems and others to develop new equipment for the IndigoZero foam dyeing process. He also partnered with Ralph Tharpe of Indigo Mill Designs LLC and with Texas Tech University to develop and test this new technology.
I met with Preston in Barcelona at the 2019 ITMA show and we talked about many topics. Preston said that this was probably going to be the last ITMA that he would attend. However, knowing Preston, I am sure he was planning on going to the next ITMA in Milan in 2023.
Pulcra Chemicals (retired)
Preston always gave me a sense of calmness when I was around him. I guess he had seen it all or most of what this industry has to offer – good and bad. He seemed to never be in a rush and enjoyed what he did tremendously. He knew so much about the industry, and he will be very much missed.
Charles Poston Klüber Lubrication
STA Board of Governors’ member
Preston was a great friend and business associate in the textile industry. We’ll miss seeing him at conferences and remembering the many finishing problems we worked on together.
GTI Chemical Solutions
Preston was one of my best friends for more than 50 years. I was a yarn man and he was a finishing man, and we worked on many projects at Bibb Manufacturing in Macon, Ga., and Columbus, Ga. We became fast friends. He was smart and courteous, and he treated people right. We occasionally had a difference of opinion, like any friends do, but we listened to each other and respected each other. We stayed in close touch through the years, especially through the Southern Textile Association, and we saw each other or called each other often. I always supported his and (his wife) Marcia’s charity, Haitian Hope, which was their passion that helped many children in Haiti. I always played in the Haitian Hope Golf Classic, its most successful fundraiser. That was the kind of person he and Marcia were – always wanting to help others. I love Preston and will miss him dearly.
Inman Mills (retired)
STA Board of Governors
Preston was a true Southern gentleman! I have been blessed to have known Preston as a friend and as a source of valuable information about an industry that he truly loved. He always exuded enthusiasm when talking about the textile industry. I looked forward to his pleasant personality during conversations at our STA board meetings and enjoyed our golf together, especially when he and George (Abbott) were part of the group. There was a lot of competitive, friendly banter. I will miss you, my friend!
I knew Preston for more than 20 years. He was a mentor and a very good friend. I have very fond memories of the two of us traveling together. We had some great times and even closed some projects now and then. He forgot more about textile manufacturing than most of us will ever know.
He was also a devoted husband, father and grandfather and also a very charitable person. He told me many stories of his mission trips to Haiti and how challenging of a life it was for the people there. He definitely had a positive impact on thousands of lives personally and professionally during his lifetime.
Preston was one of a kind! Smart, witty, polite, extremely humble, professional, personal and friendly and I could continue to name superlatives about him.
Since he was from Macon, Ga., and I was born in Macon, we had a unique bond. Many times, we discussed how our careers paralleled each other from school, textile management, technical services, sales and sales management. Oh, the stories we could tell for hour after hour.
The really bad thing about COVID and not meeting the last few years is that we miss seeing our textile buddies and their families. It’s heartbreaking that I didn’t get to see him one more time and drink a coffee or have a beer with him.
STA Board of Governors
I was a good friend, customer and admirer of Preston. We first met about 50 years ago. He became a pair of ears anytime my finishing operations had an issue. He was always there, certainly as a vendor, but more importantly, as a friend and supporter, not only of me, but my employees that he consulted. I spent a long time using him at N.C. Finishing Co., where I was technical manager and president. Later I became president, CEO and part owner of King America Finishing, where usage was even greater.
After my retirement, he remained a personal friend. I supported his charity, Haitian Hope, played golf with him, arranged tee times for him, his son, customers at our golf course here where I live, where he always visited each year during the Masters. A couple years ago, I developed a kidney problem, and Preston was one of the first callers to check on me. Ditto on everything I have read about him – quite a guy.
Retired textile executive
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