William John Park, a Greenwood County Hall of Fame member and a “giant of business,” died on Sunday. He was 93.
Park was a prominent figure in the Greenwood business community, having served as president and CEO of one of the county’s largest employers, Park Seed, and president of the Greenwood SC Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors in the early 1990s.
“William John was a friend to many, a community advocate and most importantly, he left a legacy of economic vitality for this community,” said Angelle LaBorde, Chamber president and CEO. “He was indeed a leader that helped to mold many successes of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.”
Len Bornemann, LaBorde’s predecessor, described Park as his mentor. The two met when both served on the chamber’s board in the early 1990s.
“I just admired him so much that I thought I would build a relationship with him and learn from him and try to emulate his leadership in the community,” Bornemann said, “because he was certainly committed to Greenwood and I wanted to hopefully follow his example.”
Park and his brother, Barratt, ran their father’s company until 1964 when Park set off on his own to start Parkwood Nurseries, now known as Greenwood Nursery. He returned several years later after his brother and sister-in-law died in a private plane crash. Under Park’s leadership, Park Seed became one of the biggest mail-order horticulture companies in the country.
“He hired capable people and then he let them do their job,” said Jean Jones Park, his wife. “He trusted them and he wouldn’t hire someone and say, ‘Do this catalog,’ and then take the catalog out of the hands and tear it up and say ‘No, it should have been done this way.’”
Park was known to those close to him for his wide-ranging interests. Jean called him a “renaissance man.”
In his retirement, he enjoyed restoring cars, his favorite of which was a black Lincoln Continental. In 1960, after his house burned down, he built another out of concrete so that it wouldn’t happen again.
“Jean, if a tornado comes through Greenwood, the safest place in Greenwood is this basement,” she recalled him saying. But “if an earthquake comes through, you get out in a hurry.”
“He could build anything,” Jean continued. “I think he had Scotch blood because if somebody priced something to him, he would say that’s too high and he would go home and build it (himself).”
Park also had a passion for the arts.
“I think his work and his impact was about bringing a heightened cultural interest and sense of social equality,” his daughter, Bess Park, said.
A post on Greenwood Community Theatre’s page said he and Jean “have been permanent fixtures at the theatre for decades, doing whatever was needed to make sure ‘the show went on.’ He was a benefactor, a handyman, a janitor, and supporter.”
Bess said her father was himself an excellent musician and singer. Her favorite memory of him, she said, her voice cracking, was of being rocked to sleep by him as he sang “On Top of Old Smokey.”