Roy Furr lived the American dream.
1907 - 1975
During his four decades as a Lubbock resident, he built a grocery and food service empire, was recognized by most as the city’s unofficial leader during its most explosive growth, steered Texas Tech and other higher education entities into a new era and eagerly shared his good fortune with known and unknown philanthropic efforts.
Furr was born in McKinney. His father, Crone Webster “C.W.” Furr, opened Kirkland Mercantile in 1904 in Kirkland, southeast of Childress. Roy worked alongside his father and brother, Key Furr, until leaving to attend Clarendon Junior College and the University of Oklahoma. He taught school briefly, then moved to Amarillo in 1923, when the family opened Furr Food Store.
Furr bought six grocery stores from M-System grocers in 1929 and moved to Lubbock to run them. By the time his father died in 1946, Roy Furr had poured most of the profits from his stores into additional stores and had branched out into real estate and other businesses.
By 1952, he owned 31 grocery stores, eight of them in Lubbock.
Roy and Key Furr merged their growing chains in 1956 as Furr’s Inc. The chain now had 60 stores spread around West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.
That same year, Furr’s rented the Lubbock Coliseum and, with the help of its suppliers, put on an extravagant “Show of Shows” that featured movie stars Mickey Rooney and Mamie Van Doren as well as products that could be purchased at Furr’s stores.
Furr’s first Texas cafeteria was a small-scale operation, built in 1947 next door to one of his Odessa grocery stores. The venture was successful, but the site had only 25 parking spaces.
One of his employees, a baker named Cliff Andrews, boasted if Furr would build a super cafeteria and let him manage, it could “run circles around your supermarket.” Furr agreed, and in April 1956 a Furr’s Cafeteria, double the size of the original and offering five acres of parking, opened under Andrews’ management. The operation proved so successful that Furr opened a second cafeteria in April 1956, and four more units by May 1959.
The burgeoning cafeteria chain to this point had been operated under Furr’s Supermarkets. In June 1959, the business was spun off into a separate corporation christened Furr’s Cafeterias, Inc. Roy Furr’s son, Don, who had been acting as director of the operation, was named president, and Andrews was named vice-president.
Furr’s Cafeterias, known for their family friendly-environment and as gathering places for Sunday after-church patrons, grew to 11 units by the end of 1962.
In 1969, Furr’s Cafeterias went public, issuing 260,000 shares of stock. Aside from cafeterias, the company also opened a pie shop in Lubbock in 1969, and another in Odessa in 1971. By the time of Roy Furr’s death in 1975, Furr’s Cafeterias owned and operated 57 cafeterias in seven states. It would continue to grow to 167 operations in 17 states at its peak.
Furr was the chairman of the board of Farm Pac Kitchens, Rore Realty Company, and Crone Oil Company, all companies he formed as he branched out from his supermarket business. He also served as a director of the First National Bank of Lubbock.
Though his business acumen was astounding, it was equaled by his community service and philanthropic efforts, his peers said.
Furr thought the highest honor he ever received was the Great Americanism Award, which he accepted in the early 1970s from radio personality Paul Harvey as a commendation for his outstanding achievement in philanthropic work.
Furr served several terms as a Texas Tech regent, including two as chairman.
He was also on the boards of Lubbock Christian College and McMurry College. In 1961, McMurry gave him an honorary doctorate.
By the time he died, he had led more than 20 civic organizations or groups ranging from the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce to the South Plains Council of Boy Scouts.
More than 2,500 mourners attended Furr’s 1975 funeral at First United Methodist Church. Rev. Sam Nader’s eulogy focused on Furr’s love of humanity and the joy he took in unselfish acts for others.
W.D. “dub” Rushing described Furr as “the finest executive Lubbock ever had.
“He could always show how a thing could be done. He had a positive attitude. He not only had the ideas, but he was always the first to put his hand in his pocket. ... the first to put out the money as well as the know-how."
Chas. A. Guy, former A-J editor and close friend of Furr, said, “During the three or four decades over which Lubbock made its greatest strides, Roy Furr may best be described as a 'community anchor man.’”
Guy also offered an observation that — three decades later — seems a prophetic comment. He said Furr’s “reputation and his standing among the people with whom he 'grew up’ and lived will be marked by numerous monuments of memory which will outlast those of stone.”
His passing ignited the fuse of a bitter legal battle among his heirs that eventually would blow the empire apart.
On May 22, 1979, Furr’s Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Fort Worth. A German group tried to revive the supermarkets, but a final bankruptcy in 2001 closed the stores.
Furr’s Cafeterias Inc. was virtually unaffected by the filing. The chain was sold to Kmart Corp. a year later. Shortly after the turn of the century, the cafeterias, still bearing the Furr’s name, were in the hands of a Richardson group.
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