Friends of Trent Ragland Jr. insist that he tried to keep a low profile, he really did.
But a man can have a hard time staying under the radar when he was involved in more than 20 nonprofit and state organizations and held leadership positions on more boards and foundations than might seem possible.
“He would accept it, but he shunned the spotlight,” said Walton Joyner, who met Ragland in 1939 when Joyner was 6 years old. Ragland was friends with his older siblings – Ragland was good at staying in touch.
Ragland, 94, died last month. He was married for 70 years to Anna Ragland, raised three children, and left an indelible mark on generations of North Carolinians through his charitable endeavors.
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Ragland began working in the rock and quarry world as a teenager, spending decades ushering what began as his family’s business, Superior Stone Co., through multiple mergers into what is now Martin Marietta. When he retired in 1977, he was senior vice president of one of the largest companies of its kind in the nation.
But for all the energy he put into being a solid businessman, he put at least as much into his family and community.
“He was so willing to like other people that they liked him back. And he just kind of threw love out there, and that’s what he got back,” said his daughter Alice Ragland.
When he was given the North Caroliniana Society Award in 2004, H.G. Jones said of Ragland, “His life, public and private, has been as solid as the rock that underlies our earth and that provides a natural resource indispensible to his and our world.”
Ragland was born in Salisbury and raised in Raleigh, along with one brother. His father and uncle founded Superior Stone Co. in 1939. North Carolina was considered the “good road state,” and though Ragland might have preferred pursuing a legal career, he earned a geology degree from UNC and wasted no time joining the family business, as was expected of him.
“He graduated one day and was sent off to work in the quarry the next day,” Alice Ragland said. He was known as a fair and hands-on supervisor, and became president of the company in 1954.
His career had just one interruption, in the form of World War II, during which Ragland was largely stationed in Pearl Harbor, on the staff of Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet. Ragland had taken a typing class in Raleigh and it proved quite helpful at a time when few men knew such a skill, and few women were in the military. He handled, among other things, top communications between Nimitz and the White House.
For all his professional success, Ragland refused to take much credit.
“Don’t say I did all this myself,” he told a News & Observer reporter in 1963. He was being interviewed as a Tar Heel of the Week, and appeared alarmed that the story might read otherwise. He was always ready to point to the help he had in friends, family, and colleagues.
Still, it was more than a strong support system that won him the chairmanship of the Peace College Board of Trustees, or the skills to start a family foundation in 1959. The W. Trent Ragland Jr. Foundation quietly and effectively made financial contributions to causes ranging from historical preservation to higher education for women. In 1977 he was able to donate the land upon which the Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh was built.
“As a leader, everybody respected him, but he was very soft-spoken. He was smart, he had great judgment, and that’s a talent, that’s a gift – that’s not acquired,” Joyner said.
‘Just in case’
Ragland considered himself a Depression-era child, and though his family fared better than most, the awareness of scarcity in this world stuck with him.
“He had a tremendous sense of gratitude,” Alice Ragland said.
This awareness would inform not only his passion for helping those given less, it also explained the “just in case” Christmas presents he gave his children each year, such as jumper cables or the rope ladder for emergency fire escapes.
“He was constantly prepared for the worst,” Alice Ragland said. “He would have us leave an hour ahead to go to the airport to allow for the flat tire that we never had.”
And yet “He had a sunny nature, really,” she continued. “He was a pessimist, but he had a really good time waiting for that bad thing to happen.”
That time was often spent enjoying the mountains and seashore with friends and family. In his younger years he enjoyed playing tennis and golf, and he loved to dance.
“He really wanted to leave the world a better place than he found it, and I think he did,” Alice Ragland said. “He was an improver.”
News researcher David Raynor contributed to the reporting of this article.
W. Trent Ragland Jr.
Born Aug. 12, 1920, in Salisbury.
FAMILY: Marries Anna Wood Ragland in 1944 and they have three children; daughters Anna Hayes, Alice Ragland, and son Trent Ragland III. They have four grandchildren.
MILITARY: Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlists in the U.S. Navy and is stationed for more than two years on the staff of Adm. Chester Nimitz in the Pacific Theater. He attends the Navy’s postgraduate school at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
EDUCATION: Attends high school at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, and his first year of college at the Virginia Military Academy. He graduates from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.S. in geology in 1941.
CAREER: Begins his career at Superior Stone Co. in 1941, and after his time in the military resumes working for his family’s company in 1946. He becomes president in 1954, and sees Superior Stone through two mergers, first with American Marietta Co. in 1959, which then merges with Martin Co. in 1961 to become Martin Marietta. He serves as CEO of successor companies, retiring in 1977 as senior vice president.
Dies March 1, in Raleigh.