Fred Dent, Spartanburg Day School founder, business leader, dies at 97

Since before there was a Spartanburg Day School, co-founder Fred Dent saw its mission clearly. For more than 60 years, he was an unwavering champion and sage counselor, remaining very much involved in the life of the school until his death Tuesday afternoon at age 97.

Born Aug. 17, 1922, in Cape May, N.J., Frederick Baily Dent, Sr. was raised in Greenwich, Conn. where his father worked in textiles. He graduated from Yale University with a bachelor of arts degree, then served active duty as a Naval reserve officer during World War II. He married Mildred “Millie” Harrison in 1944, and after the war, followed in his father’s textiles footsteps. In 1947, the Dents moved to Spartanburg when he was elected president of Mayfair Mills. 

Mr. Dent leaves behind a great legacy with the Griffins and in the Spartanburg community. Alongside his late wife, he was among a dedicated and energetic group of parents who, in 1956, embarked on a mission to provide a quality educational experience for their children in Spartanburg. That journey led to Spartanburg Day School’s founding in 1957; the Dents’ children were among that first group of 34 students. 

Head of School Rachel Deems grew close with Mr. Dent during her tenure as Spartanburg Day School’s seventh head of school. Whether seeking his wise counsel or discussing trends in education or finance, Deems recalled his “generous spirit, intellect and steady guidance.”

“In the life of Spartanburg Day School, Mr. Dent has been our constant, our own North Star, guiding our path from the very first moments the concept of a school was spoken. He was a quiet presence, never one to seek any credit or attention, leading with integrity, by example and with a reverence for the school that has contributed in large and significant ways to the success we share today.”

Mr. Dent saw great success in the textile industry, once serving as president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and earning recognition nationally and internationally. In the 70s, he briefly left his post at Mayfair Mills to serve under three American presidents. President Richard Nixon appointed Dent as secretary of commerce in 1973, and in 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed him Special Representative for Trade Negotiations – a post he held until President Jimmy Carter’s election in 1977.

He served as chairman of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce in the early 90s, and in 1994 was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. 

In 1998, Mr. Dent’s generous gift in support of the arts at Spartanburg Day School established a new fine arts center in Millie’s memory. Named for his wife, a passionate proponent of the arts, the Mildred Harrison Dent Fine Arts Center opened in 1999 to enhance and expand the opportunities for education in fine arts. With it began the arts endowment – another piece of the Dents’ lasting legacy at SDS – that allows the arts to permeate the educational experience through visiting artists, gallery exhibits, performers and much more.  

Mr. Dent served on the SDS board from 1957 until his death with only a seven-year hiatus, serving in many capacities throughout the years. As the board’s first treasurer, he collected the very first tuition checks. Shortly after the school opened in the Drayton Mills Community Center, it was Mr. Dent that was tasked with – and succeeded in – finding a permanent site for Spartanburg Day School along Skylyn Drive. He served as the first chair of the investment committee, managing the school’s endowment, served as board president, was named a sustaining member of the board in 1977 and honored as trustee emeritus in 1998.

Asked what he is most proud of in the school’s 60-year history for an article published in Spartanburg Day School’s 2018 Skylyner Magazine, Mr. Dent said this: “I think the continuing growth and quality of a Day School education. The success that has been achieved. It is thrilling to see that if you believe in education, it improves over time.”

Fred and Millie Dent had five children: Rick, Polly, Muffy, Diana and Magruder. In addition to his family, he held a deep love for classical music, public service and his community.

Funeral services will be conducted at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, at the Episcopal Church of the Advent, by The Rev. J. Edward Morris and The Rev. Clay Turner. A reception will follow from 2:45-4 p.m. in the Parish and Community Life Center. A private committal will be held in Greenlawn Memorial Gardens.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Episcopal Church of the Advent Foundation, 141 Advent St., Spartanburg, SC 29302; Mobile Meals Service, PO Box 461, Spartanburg, SC 29304; or Spartanburg Day School, 1701 Skylyn Drive, Spartanburg, SC 29307.