By Billy Neville
The menswear industry has lost a giant: Harold G. Powell, credited with bringing Ivy League west of the Mississippi through Harold’s Stores, has died in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma from complications of lung cancer. He was 92 years old.
Commissioned an Ensign in The United States Naval Reserve, Powell served in The U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. He subsequently graduated from The University of Oklahoma with a B.S. Degree in Business, where he was also a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.
Considered “The Dean” of Natural Shoulder Clothiers, Powell (along with his brother Dee), were long-time stalwarts on the University of Oklahoma campus, where their father had once owned Sooner Drugs. After an early association with a local men’s clothing store, he knew he was destined for the men’s apparel business, and opened his first Harold’s store in 1948. His reputation grew nationally as he was widely respected as a brilliant merchant, mentor and true friend to so many in our industry.
Says menswear designer Bert Pulitzer, “During the 1960s, retailers and designers worked towards a common goal: defining what is now called Preppy. During my many very long discussions with Harold, we got so close that we could exchange ideas in a whisper. The information flow was that intense. It was an era of original ideas at their best. I can still hear Harold, when he came across something that excited him, exclaim ‘well huh’ in his Oklahoman drawl,”
Powell added ladies’ clothing to his mix in 1958, and his business ultimately became a nationwide chain of more than 50 stores with more than 650 employees. The company went public in 1987 with a listing on The American Stock Exchange.
Scores of American retailers and wholesalers attribute their success to Powell, who generously shared his enormous wisdom, wit, and business acumen, asking nothing in return. In Jackson, Mississippi, we welcomed a Harold’s store to our Rogue compound. At only 1,250 square-feet, it fast became the highest-producing store in the entire chain. One year after opening. Harold called me and exclaimed, “I am doubling my rent! I’m not paying you nearly enough for the amount of business I’m doing there in Jackson!” Can you imagine hearing that in today’s business world?
Dennis Dann of Dann Clothing worked for Powell from 1966 to 1972, moving from sales associate to store manager, “I started working for Harold while a student at the University of Oklahoma. I was part of the opening of his first city store, in downtown Oklahoma City. I’ve always considered this my MBA and Doctorate in the apparel business. Harold was incredibly creative and talented with a great eye for classic and tasteful clothing. He understood how to run and grow a business. The Harold’s alumni from those days are amazingly talented people who went on to great success in apparel and other fields. Harold taught us far more than just selling clothes; he taught us a way of life. He was my mentor and truly helped to shape my life. I am forever indebted to him.
Harold Powell was a loyal OU Alumnus, receiving numerous awards and recognition. Always civic-minded, he was very involved in his community as a Rotarian, a member of The Board of Directors of The First National Bank of Norman, The Security National Bank of Norman, The Norman Savings and Loan Association, and more. He was a founding member of The Norman Economic and Development Foundation, a member of The Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church and was on The Board of The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
He is survived by his wife Ann Cullen Powell, his brother Dwayne (Dee) Powell and his three children: Rebecca Powell Casey, H. Rainey Powell, and Mary Powell Hunt. He leaves 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A Memorial Service will be held at St. John’s on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 at 2 p.m. The family suggests that any remembrance be directed to The Oklahoma Research Foundation, The University of Oklahoma Foundation, or to the charity of one’s choice.