Spartanburg business leader, philanthropist, Bob Harley has died

trevor.anderson@shj.comSeptember 13, 2013 

Robert Harley at his home in Spartanburg, Friday, 7-1-2011.

TIM KIMZEY — tim.kimzey@shj.com

— Robert "Bob" Harley was never one to shy away from a challenge, especially where the future of his hometown was concerned.

The local business leader, banker, philanthropist and community advocate was always one of the first people to give of his time, energy and expertise to support projects that benefited Spartanburg.

But Harley, who died Wednesday night at his east-side home at the age of 84, always shied away from the limelight, choosing to give others the credit rather than taking any for himself.

"He lived a long and productive life," said Harley's son and local orthopedic surgeon Steve Harley. "To me, he was the world's greatest father. It all started in 1946 when he was on the Spartanburg High School state championship football team. He started his life as a young man feeling like he could do anything. He was a very self-confident person."

Harley was born on April 28, 1929, the youngest of eight children to the late Cleveland Sylvanus Harley and Lochie Bates Harley. The family lived on South Church Street.

As a boy, he began working at the family's packaging company, Harley Bag Co., which was founded by his father.

He played tackle on Spartanburg High's football team that was undefeated in 1946. He went on to play in the Shrine Bowl and was offered several college scholarships after the game. Around this time, he met his future wife, Jeanne Smith, who was a member of the school's color guard.

Harley eventually accepted a scholarship to play football at Georgia Tech. Smith attended Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. Because of family emergencies, they both dropped out of college and moved back to Spartanburg, where they were married.

Bob began running the family company with his brothers and sisters, introducing innovations to paper bags, such as multi-wall construction, rotogravure printing and attractive consumer packaging.

Harley Corp. eventually became the sixth largest packaging company in the United States, with more than 1,000 employees at plants in three states.

In 1977, Harley Corp. merged with Union Camp Corp., affording Bob the opportunity to pursue his second love — banking.

"That's the way I always pictured him," Steve Harley said. "To be a successful businessman you almost need to be a banker. … He loved it."

Harley joined with other local business leaders in 1963 to form Spartanburg Bank and Trust. In 1989, he helped create Carolina Southern Bank.

Bob served as chairman of the state's development board under Gov. John West.

An avid golfer, Harley helped create the Carolina Country Club and the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head.

"He was a scratch golfer," Steve Harley said. "He was very proud of his ability. He would transact a lot of business on the golf course. He just parlayed his athleticism into golf."

In 1998, Bob became chairman of the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center and pulled community leaders together to form the Spartanburg Regional Foundation, which has continued to contribute to community projects over the years.

A decade later, and at the age of 79, Harley decided to create a third bank, downtown Spartanburg-based Carolina Alliance Bank.

He chose local banking veteran John Poole, who was serving with the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, to serve as president and CEO of the venture, which started in a temporary trailer off East Henry Street before moving into a sparkling new headquarters building on South Church Street.

Poole said Harley was very involved until he fell ill three years ago.

"He came here every day," he said. "Both internally and externally, he was one of our biggest cheerleaders. He was one of the most caring people you'd ever meet. … He loved people. He cared about people. … He was a Southern gentleman, a fantastic businessman, and he cared very much for the people in his life. He was always upbeat, always positive and always wanted to know what he could do to help. He never wanted any credit. He wanted the right things to happen. I take great comfort in the fact that he is with many of his old friends now. I rejoice in that. It doesn't mean I don't miss the heck out of him."

Bob was a member of the John Nicholson Sunday school class at Trinity Methodist Church. He and his brother, Cleveland "Bubba" Harley, who died in August, donated funding for an elevator in order to make the church handicap-accessible.

Friends and family members said Bob was a loving husband and was always at Jeanne's side up until her death in 2010.

"Bob was a great man — an outstanding man," said Sam Maw Jr., who became friends with Harley while serving together with the Spartanburg Regional Foundation. "He was a visionary. He did so much for Spartanburg. He was ahead of the game in most respects. He was a great worker, he had great ideas and accomplished many things. But he wanted to do things the right way, not shoddy. He was a great family man and an inspiration."

Harley is survived by his daughter, Kitt Papadea of Spartanburg; his son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Beth Harley of Spartanburg; and five grandchildren, Kate Papadea of Columbia, Jim Papadea of Charleston, and Ariel, Ash-Kat and Arden Harley of Spartanburg.

Services will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Trinity United Methodist Church at 626 Norwood St. The Rev. Dr. Steve Holler, and the Rev. Tyler Kirby will officiate.

Pallbearers will be Mark Harley, Bruce Harley, Mike Shackelford, Carroll Dawkins, Claude Horton, Andy Horton and Mike Dietz. Honorary pallbearers will be the Carolina Alliance Bank board members.

The family will receive friends from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the home at 254 Montgomery Drive. Entombment will immediately follow the funeral service in Heritage Mausoleum, Greenlawn Memorial Gardens.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the Spartanburg Regional Foundation.

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