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Jerry Richardson on a golf cart

The Remarkable Jerry Richardson

And the core values that led to the new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium

The amazingly successful career of Jerome Johnson “Jerry” Richardson ’59 is a story for the ages. An All-America member of the Wofford College football team, upon graduation #51 joined the Baltimore Colts and caught a touchdown pass from the legendary Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship game. Richardson took his title-game bonus and, together with his friend, business partner and classmate Charlie Bradshaw ’59, used it to open the first franchised Hardee’s restaurant in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1961. From charco-broiled hamburgers and hot apple turnovers blossomed Spartan Food Systems, which went public in 1969 and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1976. In 1993, history changed again when the National Football League owners unanimously voted for the Carolinas to receive the 29th NFL franchise, and the former professional football player, entrepreneur and businessman successfully built a privately funded stadium and football powerhouse from the ground up.

That Jerry Richardson was able to take a $4,674 title-game football bonus check and turn it into a lifetime of incredibly successful business ventures that have indelibly transformed the lives and futures of countless Wofford College students, faculty, staff and alumni, not to mention the physical campus landscape for centuries to come, is nothing short of incredible. And as implausible as it sounds, that’s not the most amazing part of the story.

On July 18, 1936, Richardson, an only child, was born in a Spring Hope, N.C., farmhouse with no running water, no electricity and no access to health care. His mother worked in a women’s clothing store and was paid by the hour; his father was a barber who was paid 25 cents per haircut. Most of the men in the extended Richardson family were farmers, and most of the women stayed home with children or went to work straight out of high school.

“We were not wealthy people; in fact, my family didn’t have a car until I was 16 years old, but it didn’t bother me any,” muses Richardson. “All the members of my family were hard working, spit-polished and clean, and never, ever late. It never occurred to me not to be on time. My grandmother would tell me it’s rude and inconsiderate to be late.” Richardson credits his mother as “by far” the most influential person in his life.

The Richardson family may not have had a car in the early years, but Richardson had a bike, and it was on this bike that he first learned that the best things in life involve both risk and luck. “I had streets I wasn’t supposed to ride beyond, but the first thing I would do is go to that street — and ride beyond it,” says Richardson. “I was not supposed to be in the creeks or jump off bridges, but as soon as I could ride to a creek or a bridge, I would jump in them and off them. I jumped in creeks and off bridges all over Nash County. My grandmother often said, ‘Jerry is an active boy.’”

Going beyond, taking risks and succeeding undergirds Richardson’s commitment to Wofford, just as the qualities of hard work and respect instilled in Richardson by his mother formulated the basis of his approach to life.

“It isn’t complicated,” says Richardson of the core values he first wrote decades ago on a Hardee’s napkin with a felt-tip black pen. Now Richardson is known by all for these simple yet timeless tenets:

Hard Work
“I saw my mother and father and aunts and uncles work hard. I knew I wasn’t going to get a good result if I didn’t work hard, too. Nobody was going to do it for me. You have to work hard to be a success in the food business.”

Harmony
“It helps people be happy when there is harmony. It helps me, too.”

Teamwork
“It’s important to me, and it makes sense to me because I was an athlete. Coaches pull it off, but it’s difficult to teach people who don’t come from that background why it’s so important. But it is.”

Listen
“I took ‘listen’ off the list one time, and it was when people told Charlie and me that we wouldn’t make it to the New York Stock Exchange by the time we were 40. I didn’t want to hear it, so I took it off. But we got there — and we were the third company in the state of South Carolina to get there. So I put it back on, and I listen.”

Respect
According to Richardson, “respect” is the most important value of all. “I always try to be respectful, and my favorite Bible verse is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ People just need to be nice to each other. What’s the point of not being nice?” Richardson emphasizes.

Of his remarkable life and career, Richardson is quick to attribute a lot to luck. “That the Colts won the championship was lucky. That we had the money because of it to start the business was lucky. That I’ve been married to Rosalind this long is lucky,” says Richardson.

He brought that luck with him to Wofford and shared it. Richardson’s two latest contributions to the college — the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, home to the college’s Departments of Art and Art History and Theatre, as well as state-of-the-art spaces for instruction, performances and exhibits, and the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, a 123,000-square-foot facility that includes a 3,400-seat basketball arena, a 350-seat volleyball competition venue, a state-of-the-art training room and facilities for the college’s basketball, volleyball and women’s lacrosse teams — is the continuation of four decades of generosity to the college community. Richardson has contributed to numerous physical building projects. He has provided generous scholarships to countless Wofford students and has served on the college’s board of trustees for more than four decades, honored with trustee emeritus status in 2017. Because of Richardson, Wofford has been the summer training camp home of the Carolina Panthers since 1995, a major boon to both the college brand as well as the entire Upstate. The Wofford connection associated with the media coverage of the 2017 Carolina Panthers Training Camp enabled the college’s name to reach billions of people across the globe and represented $27.5 million in comparable advertising value. Similarly, according to an impact study by Clemson University for the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, this summer’s training camp brought more than 100,000 fans to Spartanburg and generated a record $13.2 million in economic impact to the Spartanburg community while supporting more than 260 jobs.

“Jerry Richardson is a man of action, a man of principal and a man of loyalty,” says Wofford College President Nayef Samhat. “We were overwhelmingly lucky that Jerry Richardson chose Wofford, and exceptionally grateful for his ongoing and continued support of the college, its students and its mission.”

During the groundbreaking of the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts in May 2015, Wofford College Board of Trustees Chairman Harold Chandler ’71 said that the gift was “a great building of study, of enjoyment and enlightenment, a place where young people will learn more about the joys of life, both while here at Wofford and also as they leave here and become well-rounded and dedicated servants of our world, like you, Mr. Richardson.”

The remarkable story of Jerry Richardson — a man with humble beginnings who transformed not only his life, but the lives of countless others past, present and future — is nothing short of extraordinary. Yet, to Jerry Richardson, success is not complicated. “I live an unusual life,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of help, but I haven’t been given anything. Work hard and be respectful. You can’t achieve these things without taking risks. And I’m still taking them.”

Major Influencers

Although Richardson credits his mother “by far” as the biggest influence in his life, he’s quick to say he had lots of help along the way from key friends and supporters. Some of the most notable include:

  • William Dixon Hardy: a Spartanburg banker who loaned the then 27-year-old Richardson $18,000 for restaurant equipment. “He said, ‘Jerry, people want to help you,’” remembers Richardson. “I dismissed it at the time; it was just a conversation as far as I was concerned. As it turned out, however, he was right. … I was just too young to realize it.”
  • Donald Keough: former president, chief operating officer and director of the Coca-Cola Co. “He came along at the perfect time in my life,” says Richardson.
  • Joe Lesesne: President emeritus of Wofford College.
  • Hugh McColl: a fourth-generation banker and former chairman and CEO of Bank of America. “Meeting him was good luck!” says Richardson.
  • Bob Prevatte ’50: Richardson’s Fayetteville, N.C., high school football coach, credited with bringing Richardson to Wofford College. 
  • Dan Rooney: owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who took Richardson under his wing when he came into the NFL. “He was a confidante of 25 years, who mentored and supported me as long as he lived. We spoke often, and he taught me the ins and outs of the NFL.”
  • John B. White Sr.: restaurant owner of the Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, S.C. “John White set a good example,” says Richardson. “He was the most successful restaurant person in our part of South Carolina and was a hard worker.”

Richardson also ranks a handful of Wofford professors as major influencers in his life at a young age. “They knew I wasn’t interested in academics, but they supported me anyway,” says Richardson. 

  • Charles Edward Cauthen: professor of history and political science from 1943 until 1964.
  • John Quitman Hill ’47: professor of mathematics from 1953 until 1972.
  • Lewis Pinckney Jones ’38: professor of English and history from 1946 until 1987.
  • S. Frank Logan ’41: held the titles of dean of students, registrar, director of admissions, dean of admissions, director of alumni affairs and associate professor of history spanning 1947 through 1980. “Dean Logan selected me to be a hall manager of my residence hall, a position that typically didn’t go to athletes. I was thankful for it as it gave me a $30 per month income,” says Richardson.

A Lasting Legacy

Jerry Richardson has contributed all or a portion of the funds for the following construction projects at Wofford College:

  • Campus Life Building (1979)
  • Richardson Physical Activities Building (1993)
  • Wightman Residence Hall (renovation) (1985)
  • Roger Milliken Science Center (2001)
  • Martha Cloud Chapman Gallery, Campus Life Building (2005)
  • Richardson Physical Activities Building (renovation, 2008)
  • Joe E. Taylor Athletic Center (2009)
  • Provost’s Home/Kilgo-Clinkscales House (renovation, 2010)
  • Enhancements to spectator area for Carolina Panthers Training Camp overlooking practice fields (2015)
  • Richardson Family Pavilion, Stewart H. Johnson Greek Village (2016)
  • Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts (2017)
  • Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium (2017)
  • Enhancements to the Richardson Physical Activities Building (2018)

In addition to the brick-and-mortar projects, Richardson’s primary investment at Wofford College has been the Richardson Family Endowed Scholarship, which provides a full, four-year scholarship to Wofford for one incoming first-year student each year that also includes a laptop computer, summer internships, overseas travel opportunities and other enrichment activities. The Richardson Family Endowed Scholarship has been awarded continuously since 1988, changing the lives and supporting the futures of 27 Wofford students to date.


by Annie S. Mitchell