O Max Gardner

Oliver Max Gardner (1882-1947) was a politician, businessman, and lawyer of Shelby, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C. A 1903 graduate of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, Gardner studied law, 1905-1906, at the University of North Carolina, and, in 1907, opened a law practice in Shelby, N.C., where he also founded the Shelby Cloth Mills (later renamed the Cleveland Cloth Mills), the Gardner Land Company, and other businesses; he also operated a farm.

Active in the Democratic Party, he was elected a North Carolina state senator in 1910 and 1915, lieutenant governor in 1916, and governor in 1929. In 1934, Gardner moved to Washington, D.C., and established Gardner, Morrison & Rogers, a law firm representing the interests of the textile, soft-drink, and aviation industries, among others. He later served as chair of the United States Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion’s Advisory Board, 1945-1946; as undersecretary of the United States Treasury, 1946; and as ambassador-elect to England, December 1946-February 1947. He was also a director of the Sperry Corporation and a member of the board of trustees of North Carolina State College and the University of North Carolina. With his wife, Fay Gardner, he helped build an endowment for Boiling Springs Junior College (renamed Gardner-Webb College) in Boiling Springs, N.C.

Fay Webb Gardner (1885-1969), civic leader and first lady of North Carolina, married Gardner in 1907. Fay Lamar Webb was the daughter of Judge James L. Webb and Kansas Webb, one of the most prominent families in Western North Carolina. She was active in women’s organizations in Shelby, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C., and in the state and national Democratic Party, representing the state twice as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. She also served on the North Carolina State Advisory Board of Paroles, as president of the Gardner Foundation, Inc. (which helped support Gardner-Webb College), and as a trustee of the school.

“There is one in particular I would like to mention, however, and one I made Under Secretary of the Treasury, and I also appointed him to be Ambassador to Great Britain. He was a former Governor of North Carolina—Max Gardner—a wonderful man.”President Harry S. Truman
Address at the State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, North Carolina 1948

The Gardners had four children: Margaret Love Gardner Burgess (b. 1908), who married N. E. Burgess; James Webb Gardner (1910-1946), who married Iris Rollins; Ralph Webb Gardner (b. 1912); and O. Max Gardner, Jr. (1922-1961), who married Sara Mull. Ralph Webb Gardner graduated from Yale University Law School and practiced law in Shelby, N.C. Elected a state senator in 1939, he enlisted in the United States Army during World War II. James Webb Gardner was executive vice-president of Cleveland Cloth Mills, 1941-1946. O. Max Gardner, Jr., a graduate of North Carolina State College, was commissioned a lieutenant in the United States Army. After World War II, he helped manage the Cleveland Cloth Mills and was treasurer of Gardner-Webb College.

ezra_bridgesShe worked for the Governor as a domestic servant from 1917 to 1932. The Governor then urged her to seek a higher education and paid for her to attend and graduate from Columbia University.

Ezra Bridges – Her Visionary Life & Impact
The Shelby Star

Her passions: Education and race relations
Charlotte Observer

Cleveland County loses beloved community member
The Shelby Star

Quotes about Max

“My attitude is that this is not a time of limited resources and of little hope. Rather, it is time to be creative and to implement new ideas and changes in the way we do things in North Carolina. It is a time to be optimistic. There was a Governor before me . . . I am a student of history and a history teacher and I love history and particularly the history of North Carolina . . . his name was Max Gardner. Max Gardner was our governor during the Great Depression. If you have not read any of Max Gardner’s writings then you ought to. He was brilliant. And, he turned everything upside down. He used the Great Depression as the opportunity to transform the way this state did business. He is why we have one road system, one public school system, one port system, one state police system, one university system and much more. He did all of that. He was a true visionary and a fearless and progressive leader. I have been impressed everyday by what he faced but more impressed by how he handled one adversity after the other.”

-Governor-Elect Beverly Perdue, NC Chamber of Commerce 2009 Economic Forecast Forum Raleigh, NC –January 5, 2009 View Video

“O Max Gardner changed the face of North Carolina in a positive way. In the tough times, he exercised fiscal discipline, while at the same time focusing on investments in education and workforce development. He made government more efficient and made it work for the people and in doing so, built a brighter future for North Carolina.”

-Lt. Governor Walter Dalton

“Today on microfilm I came across a newspaper article in 1942 where your [OMG III] Grandfather and Grandmother Gardner gave 26 acres to be used for a black cemetery. And I paused to remember again just how special they were with such generosity and love for the people of our community. They blessed us in so many ways.”

– Lynda Bird Johnson Robb

“I checked out more information about Max’s [OMG III] authentically illustrious ancestor, Gov. Gardner, at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Max_Gardner) Wonderful.

As we know, they didn’t need computers to steal elections. How disgusting that a rival stole an election from Max’s ancestor. Glad he stayed in the game until he was later elected during a crucial time in our history.

Can you imagine such thoughtfulness as Gov. Gardner exercised actually being practiced today? Can you imagine politicians actually paying attention to thoughtful studies nowadays? And that too in the middle of a great depression, when the temptation to panic or play the know-it-all or demagogue would be paramount. My God, what a world we have lost. We have only to look at the current state of the State of California where I live to compare.

I can respect a strongly pro-business man who is honest and upright, even though I do not personally share the pro-business perspective. And despite his pro-business orientation, Gov. Gardner helped bring workers’ compensation to North Carolina. Workers’ comp. is frequently bad-mouthed but it still beats the alternative. And as much as I respect Max’s ancestor, I am glad that the Gardner dynasty has issued forth in somebody as strongly pro-consumer as O. Max Gardner III.

Thanks, Max [OMG III], for drawing our attention to your ancestor, a historic figure indeed, worthy of emulation.”

-Ross S. Heckmann Attorney at Law