|Davidson Mourns John Belk, Class of 1943
August 17, 2007
John Montgomery Belk, Davidson College Class of 1943, died on August 17, 2007, in Charlotte, his lifelong home and a city that he and his family helped to shaped as citizens, leaders, and visionaries. He was 87 years old.
|John Belk (center) joined Bev Dolan (left) and John Kuykendall to lead The Campaign for Davidson in 1989. |
“Today, Davidson mourns the loss of one of its most distinguished and accomplished alumni, a man whose life and career were a study in leadership: a combination of inspiration, vision, and determination to accomplish the task at hand. Our single most pressing need is for leaders in the mold of John Montgomery Belk—men and women to guide with integrity, compassion, and courage. Dozens of current and past Davidson students who have the honor of being John Belk Scholars will feel this loss in a very personal way, but will carry his legacy of leadership and service with pride throughout their lives,” said Tom Ross, president of Davidson College.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Claudia, Mary Claudia, and all of the Belk family, as we say good-bye to one of Davidson’s best, ” said Ross.
When John Belk came to Davidson as a first-year student in 1939, he was continuing a family tradition that began with the earliest Belk graduates in 1847. His father, William Henry Belk, was the founder of the Belk retail organization, and his mother, a teacher, was active in civic life. At Davidson, John amassed a record of leadership and accomplishment that foreshadowed his extraordinary career. An economics major, he was a varsity athlete and captain of the basketball team, a leader in student government and the Panhellenic Council, and a member of the Eumenean Literary Society and Scabbard and Blade.
After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army Infantry, serving for three years in World War II as a lieutenant and resuming active duty in the Korean War. After serving as an officer of the United Nations Civil Assistance Commission, Belk returned home to his family business in 1952. Under his guidance as Chairman of the Board of Belk, Inc., and its predecessors, the family business has expanded into one of the nation’s largest and most profitable retail organizations.
John Belk married the former Claudia Watkins of Charlotte, who served as a District Court Judge for many years. Their daughter, Mary Claudia Belk Pilon, serves on the Belk Scholarship Board of Advisers, as does Claudia Watkins Belk.
|Claudia Watkins Belk, John Belk, and Mary Claudia Belk Pilon |
John Belk dedicated himself to his community, most notably as mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, for four terms from 1969 to 1977. Under his leadership, the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport expanded dramatically, becoming the hub for what is now USAirways. Belk helped forge the beneficial collaboration between business and government that continues today, positioning Charlotte for its role as one of the nation’s fastest growing and most economically successful cities. He was particularly proud of the key role he played in bringing professional sports to his home city.
John Belk was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, a national leader in the Boy Scouts of America, and a member of numerous advisory councils and boards. The recipient of many national awards in government, business, and education, he was admired for a lifetime of leadership and a career that serves as a model for business success, civic accomplishment, and humanitarian service. In 1997, he was named Charlotte World Citizen by the Charlotte World Affairs Council.
John Belk served alma mater loyally during thirty years and under four presidents as a member of the Board of Trustees. In 1973, he was presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award and was inducted into the Davidson Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. He took the helm as honorary chair of the college’s first major fundraising campaign, which raised $163 million from 1989 to 1995.
|The John Montgomery Belk Arena was dedicated in 1989. |
In the early 1990s, he established the John Montgomery Belk Scholarship at Davidson, and in 2000 made an historic gift—the largest single gift from an individual in the college’s history—to endow this flagship scholarship program. Today, thirty-eight students from across the nation are currently enrolled as Belk Scholars, receiving full tuition, room, and board, as well as stipends for summer study and travel. Thirty-two alumni Belk Scholars are now engaged in post-graduate study and careers in medicine, business, education, law, and the ministry.
Students who are selected as John Montgomery Belk Scholars combine outstanding academic ability with records of superior accomplishments in leadership or service. The scholarship recognizes students who have demonstrated exceptional promise in a variety of areas: academics, student government, the arts, publications, religious life, community service, and athletics. Like the man who created the program, Belk Scholars combine integrity, compassion, leadership, mature judgment, and an abiding goodwill in all of their efforts.
John Belk was deeply touched by the opportunity to help deserving young people attend his alma mater, and kept in contact with many of the Belk Scholars. He remained engaged with Davidson throughout his life, and was on campus several times in the past academic year to meet with Belk Scholars and enjoy basketball games and other events.
|Belk enjoyed a recent event celebrating the John Belk Scholars at Davidson.|
The Belk Arena of Baker Sports Complex also bears Belk’s name. That two residence halls have long been named for his parents, William Henry and Mary Irwin Belk, is a testament to the family’s abiding generosity to the college. The Belk Visual Arts Center is named for his late brother Tom, Class of ’46, and his wife Katherine. Recently, Katherine Belk-Cook helped inaugurate the campus sculpture program. Their daughter, Katie Belk Morris, serves as a Davidson trustee.
The college’s track is named for John’s brother Irwin, Class of ’45, who also took great pleasure in commissioning the largest Wildcat statue in the world to place in front of Baker Sports Complex. The Carol Grotnes Belk Turf Field, named for Irwin Belk’s wife, is the college’s first artificial surface playing field, home to women’s lacrosse and field hockey, and is the proud home of two more gifts from Irwin Belk, life-size statues of a field hockey player and a lacrosse player.
John Montgomery Belk shaped his college, his city, his state, and his region through decades of leadership. Davidson is grateful to him for his many years of dedicated service, from which its students and faculty will benefit for generations to come.
The funeral service is planned for 2:00 p.m., Monday, August 20, at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.
Posted By: Bill Giduz