John Montgomery Belk (March 29, 1920 - )
Department store leader, successful politician and noted philanthropist, John Belk has packed more roles into one life than most can image.
The Belk name made its first mark in business in 1888 when William Henry
Belk opened a retail store in Monroe, NC.
When John Belk was born in Charlotte in 1920, the town was booming — with the population nearly doubling during the previous decade.
John attended public schools and McCallie School, before enrolling in Davidson College. A member and co-captain of the basketball team, John graduated in 1943.
He served in the military during World War II (1943 - 1945 ), before joining Belk Brothers.
During the Korean War, John was recalled to active service in 1950, as an officer of the United Nations Civil Assistance Commission until spring 1952.
In 1952, there were 300 Belk stores throughout the South when William Henry Belk passed awat.
Together with his brother Tom, John guided the Belk operation through dynamic changes in the retail industry, which transformed over the decades from small, local businesses to national chains.
Belk became and remains the largest, independently owned, retail operation in America today, with sales of more than $2 billion.
His involvement with civic activities and philanthropy also grew during the 1960s from serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce to funding many worthwhile educational building projects. In 1968, the Charlotte News had named him Man of the Year.
In 1969, John was encouraged to enter the mayor's race. He told voters: "I don't claim to be an outstanding speaker. I don't claim to be a politician. I am a businessman."
Narrowly elected by 401 votes in the 1969 general election, John became one of Charlotte's longest-serving mayors, guiding the city from 1969 to 1977.
He pushed the development of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, which was finally approved just after his term was completed.
Labeled one of the city's "titans" by the Charlotte Observer in 1997, John Belk was one of those "who shaped Charlotte's rise to national prominence by pooling their visions, resources and love of a place."
He has a long record of supporting worthwhile causes. Belk donated the land where the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center was built. He has generously supported Davidson University, the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation and many more.
He served on numerous boards, including Union Theological Seminary, UNC Charlotte, the Business Partnership Foundation of the University of South Carolina and more.
Among his numerous awards are North Carolina Distinguished Citizens Award (1978), World Citizens Award (1997) from the Charlotte World Affairs Council and the NC Business Hall of Fame (2000).