Paul Hunt Broyhill, age 97, furniture industry icon and philanthropist, passed away Tuesday, October 5, 2021, at Caldwell UNC Health Care.
He was born April 5, 1924, in Lincoln County, N.C., because Lenoir at that time did not have a hospital, to the late J.E. and Satie Hunt Broyhill. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife, Faye Arnold Broyhill; a sister, Betty Broyhill Gortner and her husband Will; and a brother-in-law, William Stevens.
Paul grew up attending Lenoir public schools, walking to and from the family home on College Avenue, the current site of the Caldwell Arts Council. He played first-chair flute in the Lenoir High School Band. During the 1930s, schools had only 11 grades. For a fourth year of high school, he attended Culver Military Academy, then enrolled in Virginia Polytechnical Institute.
Before classes began at VPI, his close friend from Lenoir, Rooster Bush, convinced Paul to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While he was at UNC, Uncle Sam interrupted his education. He was drafted into the United States Army and served as Technical Sergeant.
After returning from the Army, Paul finished his degree in business at Chapel Hill and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and the Phi Delta Theta business honor society.
From college, Paul returned to Lenoir and joined his father’s furniture business, beginning in the factories and working his way into management. During the 1940s and 50s, he gained more responsibility until he became President and CEO of Broyhill Furniture Industries.
When he assumed the reins from his father, the company employed approximately 1000 workers. Over Paul’s tenure, Broyhill Furniture increased to a workforce of nearly 7,500. Sales soared, doubling on average every seven years. The company grew to six million square feet of modern manufacturing facilities.
Throughout the industry, Paul Broyhill was known as an innovator in management, production, distribution, and marketing. The Broyhill management style centered on the belief that employees were the company’s most valued asset. Routinely, both J.E. and Paul visited the plants to give personal “at-a-boys.” An internal program called “Broyhill U” trained leaders to manage effectively. Paul was an industry pioneer in creating an employee stock option plan (ESOP) for every worker. One of his most remembered quotes is, “More than just building plants, I like to think I built people.”
Unafraid to deviate from the status quo, he often traveled offshore to study new designs and to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. With this equipment and creative techniques, he revolutionized furniture production. He developed distribution methods so that the product was available quickly in all parts of the country.
Referred to in the trade magazine Furniture Today as a “game-changer,” he was the first to market his product in national home magazines like Life and Look, and on television game shows such as The Price is Right. From a cadre of 20 salesmen in 1948, Paul eventually built a sales force of greater than 300. Under his leadership, Broyhill became the most recognizable name in home furnishings.
In 1946, Paul and his father began a charitable fund that would help children of their employees go to college. That fund grew over the years in financial worth and areas of interest into the current Broyhill Family Foundation. The foundation has given millions of dollars to support higher education, medical research, and other charitable endeavors. Endowment funds at numerous universities and hospitals provide ongoing support of programs and research.
Paul and his brother, U.S. Senator Jim Broyhill, were instrumental in establishing Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute. Paul believed that students who did not want to attend a four-year college needed career education alternatives. Over the years, the Broyhill Family Foundation has continued to be a primary supporter of that institution. Today, appropriately, a new building on the campus bears his name: The Paul H. Broyhill Center for Advanced Technologies.
Paul fashioned and donated to the City of Lenoir a beautiful Japanese-themed walking park built on the site of an old rock quarry used by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A botanical retreat, the park continues to draw people of all ages and conditions who want to enjoy nature and the outdoors.
At the company’s height, Paul sold Broyhill Furniture Industries and the Broyhill name to Interco, Inc. With the proceeds he structured a fund, BMC, that he managed on behalf of the Broyhill family. Paul Broyhill stayed involved in business and in humanitarian efforts until just before his death. He was vital and engaged with a sharp mind, a sense of humor, and a heart for others.
Over the years, Paul received innumerable local, state, and national awards, recognitions, commendations and honors including: Honorary doctorates from Gardner-Webb University, Appalachian State University, Lees-McRae College, and Lenoir Rhyne University; Furniture Today Lifetime Achievement Award; The North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry Hall of Fame; The American Home Furnishings Association Hall of Fame and Distinguished Service Award; State of North Carolina Order of the Longleaf Pine; and Masonic Veteran’s Master Service Award.
He was a friend of U.S. Presidents, Congressmen, and other leaders. Yet, his heart warmed when random people would approach him, thanking him for the opportunity he provided them at Broyhill Furniture. While he devoted most of his time to business and to the foundation, Paul also participated in various church and civic activities. A lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Lenoir, he served in capacities including Sunday School teacher, member and Chairman of the Board of Deacons, and Life Deacon. He served as Trustee of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest University and Tomorrow’s America, which operates five Broyhill Leadership Camps for youth.
In addition, Paul Broyhill served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Manufacturers, the Dallas Market Center in Dallas, Texas, and the Board of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association in High Point, North Carolina. He served on the Board of Directors and advisory councils of various colleges and universities.
Quoted as saying, “Business is my fun,” he mixed business with pleasure by entertaining his customers on his boats or on the golf course. Many a business deal started with a par and a handshake. He owned and flew all kinds of planes including a Lear jet until he was well into his eighties. He accumulated over 13,000 flight hours. Early on, he justified his air forays to his father by claiming the need to visit Broyhill customers all over the nation.
He credits his flying with meeting Faye Arnold, the reigning Miss North Carolina and third runner up to Miss America. Some local businessmen asked him to fly to Raleigh and pick up Miss NC to judge a local beauty contest. Despite a scary ride, they connected. He and Faye were married for 46 years before her death in 2002. A source of pride for Paul is that his son, Hunt, is also a pilot.
Survivors include his wife, Karen Rabon Broyhill; one son, Hunt Broyhill and wife LeAnne; two daughters, Caron Broyhill and Claire Broyhill; his sister, Allene Broyhill Stevens; his brother, retired United States Senator, James T. Broyhill and wife, Louise; two step-children, Chris Hall and wife Stephanie, and Jenny Hall Robeson and husband Mark; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Graveside services will be private at the family cemetery, Broyhill Memorial Park, with Rev. Dr. David Smith and Rev. Josh Hughes officiating.
Serving as pallbearers will be John Knox Wilson, Paul Hunt Broyhill II, Michael Jacobs, Tim Greene, Marcus Darby, and Chris Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests memorial contributions be made to Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, Broyhill Campus, PO Box 338, Thomasville, NC 27361 or to the charity of one’s choice.
Online condolences may be left at www.greer-mcelveenfuneralhome.com.
Greer-McElveen Funeral Home and Crematory is assisting the Broyhill family.