Life Stories

Life Stories: Harold Hart cared about his workers and his community

CorrespondentNovember 24, 2013 

  • Harold Keith Hart

    Born: Aug. 6, 1942, in Siler City

    Family: Wife of 51 years, Faye Self Hart, daughter Lisa Hart Stout and son Bradley Hart, and two grandchildren.

    Career: Begins working for his father, Gurman Hart, with his upholstery and furniture business in 1956. Hart Furniture is incorporated in 1969, and upon his father’s retirement Harold takes over the business, growing it to a multimillion-dollar company with international sales.

    Awards: 1999 Hart Furniture named “Small Business of the Year” by Siler City; 2001 named “Distinguished Citizen of the Year” by Chatham County.

    Community Involvement: Siler City Planning Board and Board of Adjustment, PNC Arena Centennial Authority, Chatham Hospital Board, N.C. State Health Coordinating Council, Planters/Centura/RBC Bank Board, Rotary Club, NCSU Wolfpack Club, Chatham County Chamber of Commerce.

    Died: Oct. 10

During a business trip to China, Harold Hart and Charles Heavner took a stroll along the Great Wall. But rather than talk shop – the two had done business together for decades – they mainly talked about friends and family.

“That’s the effect Harold had on people,” Heavner recalled. “You could go halfway around the world to one of the greatest man-made wonders, and you would rather converse with Harold.”

Hart, owner of Hart Furniture, a retail and wholesaler based out of Siler City, was known throughout the furniture industry as about as honest as they come. Many described him as a “handshake” sort of businessman, the kind you don’t come across as frequently these days.

“The furniture industry is fraternal in nature. We have six industry shows a year, so you spend a lot of time with the same people,” Heavner said. “He cared about the furniture industry a lot. If you were in it, he cared about you.”

Hart died in October after a 10-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia. At 71, he’d had no intention of retiring, said Faye Hart, his wife of 51 years. It was a devastating blow to his family – a family that included his employees. Of the 27 employees at Hart Furniture, many have worked there for nearly 50 years.

His death was also a hardship to the many boards and commissions on which he served. Among the pallbearers at his funeral was Robert Seligson, executive vice president and CEO of the N.C. Medical Society. They’d met as members of the Centennial Authority, the board that oversees Raleigh’s PNC Arena, but he considered Hart as more an “uncle” than a colleague.

“He was successful because he was a man of his word. I saw this first hand when he took me furniture shopping at High Point. Uncle Harold was a rock star. People would stop in their tracks to come to talk to him. He was a Southern gentleman, soft spoken, unassuming, honest as the sky is blue,” Seligson said.

Hart was asked to join the authority by Joe Hackney, the former state House speaker. Though Hart’s formal education ended after high school, a fact he humbly pointed out from time to time, Hackney felt his business sense – and integrity – would be quite an asset to the organization. Not only did Hart grow his family’s furniture store from a mom-and-pop retail outfit to an international wholesale operation, he did so without an ounce of underhandedness, colleagues say.

“He could make his point without antagonizing anybody. I thought that was a gift,” Helen Buckner said. As the first woman to join the local Centura Bank board in Siler City, of which he was a member, she relied on Hart as a key source of support.

“It was not, in a small town like Siler City, easy for women to be involved,” Buckner said. “He himself was very successful, but he never had that bravado sort of thing. He never came across as this ruthless business person. He was always there to help you out.”

Hart began working at his father’s upholstery business as a teen, and joined the staff after graduating from high school. While his father’s interest was in retail, Hart had the eye for wholesale, buying close-out items and selling them at a profit.

In the early years he did everything himself. Family vacations almost always included a furniture delivery along the way. In the end, he owned 54 trailers and five warehouses, and he had a legacy of driving a hard – but fair – bargain.

If you were a Hart Furniture employee, he covered 100 percent of your health insurance. (If you were his grandson, he let you have your own “office” in the back of the warehouse.) He also offered a profit-sharing plan, which he also completely covered, and did little things that seemed to go a long way. He threw an annual Christmas party, gave bonuses and understood when life happened and folks needed to take time off to handle it.

“He was really proud of the benefits he had,” said his daughter, Lisa Hart Stout. She has helped run the retail operation for decades and now is taking charge of the company.

She hangs on tight to the lessons he taught her: “Your word is your bond. That’s all that you have. No matter how hard it is, you have to keep it.” Another one of his mottoes was, “Make a friend everywhere you go.”

Both of these seemed easy for Hart.

“I think of Siler City, well really the whole Triad/Triangle region of North Carolina, and quickly realize that it is the Harold Harts that make this area so special to live in. It is those people who have decided to plant firm roots in their community and, most importantly, give back to those folks who have helped,” said longtime colleague Allen Fritts of Lexington Home Brands.

“His last name pretty much sums up who he was,” Fritts said. “His ‘Hart’ touched the most important people to him – his family and community. How special is that?”

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