Sysco Corp. Looses Longtime Friend
As seen in the Houston Chronicle.
John F. Baugh, the founder of Houston-based Sysco Corp., the nation's largest restaurant food supplier, and a benefactor of Baptist universities, died Monday in San Antonio. He was 91.
Baugh gave $25 million to Baylor University in his hometown of Waco and was a founding trustee of Houston Baptist University.
Baugh left his job as a grocery store manager in 1946 to start a company distributing frozen peaches and strawberries to bakeries, cafeterias and hospitals. He made the deliveries, while his wife, Eula Mae, managed the books.
The company now claims more than 47,000 employees and more than $30 billion in annual sales, providing everything from napkins to tomatoes to restaurants, schools, hotels and other businesses preparing food outside the home.
Around the warehouse, Baugh was known for his humility and compassion. He knew the names of employees and their children, said Jack D. Carlson, a former Sysco executive who is chairman of Houston Baptist University's governing board.
"He was more comfortable as a greeter, opening car doors and welcoming people into the church house, than as a leader," Carlson said. "But he was a leader."
Baugh retired as chairman in 1985, but remained on the company's board of directors until 1997.
Although he did not earn a college degree, Baugh had a passion for higher education, serving as a founding trustee of Houston Baptist in 1960 and later as a Baylor University regent.
"The university was started by a group of business leaders in the city, and he was part of that group," said Don Looser, vice president for academic affairs at HBU. "You would think the groundswell would come from local pastors and clergy, but it came from Christian businessmen, which has been a long-term strength for the university."
Baugh and his wife made several gifts to the universities, including more than $25 million to Baylor, more than any other benefactor. At Houston Baptist, the dining hall is known as the Eula Mae Baugh Center.
"He came to realize that a college degree was something important to have," Carlson said. "He wanted to benefit others who didn't have the opportunity."
Three years ago, Baugh was among 22 former Baylor regents calling for the resignation of the school's embattled president, saying his leadership had irreparably divided the campus.
Robert B. Sloan later resigned as Baylor's president. Last year he became president of HBU.
In addition to his wife, Baugh is survived by his daughter Barbara, of San Antonio, and two granddaughters. A memorial service at Tallowood Baptist Church, 555 Tallowood, is pending.
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