Civic leader. Richard “Dick” Tukey was a crucial figure in the post–World War II economic development of the South Carolina Piedmont, especially Spartanburg County. As executive vice president of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, Tukey helped to transform the region’s economy by international recruitment, by expansion away from textiles, and by taking a decidedly global outlook on economic development.
Tukey was born on July 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in White Plains. After graduating cum laude from Maine’s Bowdoin College, Tukey thought about becoming a journalist, working as a reporter for the International News service in New York between 1940 and 1941. During World War II, Tukey served as an army staff specialist at Fort Benning, Georgia. After his release from the army in 1946, Tukey stayed in Georgia to become the director of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Tukey returned to New York in 1948, where he worked as an executive director of the Cigar Institute of America and a vice president of operations for the Ettinger Company, a New York City public relations firm. In 1954 he married Virginia Walker Ligon. The couple had two sons.
In May 1951 Tukey became the executive vice president of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, a position he held until his death. He rapidly became one of Spartanburg’s leading economic decision makers. Expansive, persistent, and demanding, Tukey’s style and personality made him an effective salesman for Spartanburg. Depending on the situation, he could use either gentle persuasion or stern enforcement to unite the community behind the ruling boosters’ vision and recruitment efforts.
During the 1960s and 1970s Tukey’s vision of Spartanburg’s and South Carolina’s economic future became increasingly global. International economic developments made foreign investment in the United States increasingly profitable. From early on, Tukey understood the potential of luring foreign direct investments to Spartanburg. He started to direct a growing portion of his time to recruiting foreign companies. The first big success was the decision by the German chemical company Hoechst to build a large factory in northern Spartanburg County in 1965.
Tukey’s and Spartanburg’s efforts soon gained attention through- out South Carolina. During their visit to Basel, Switzerland, to attend an International Textile Machinery Show in 1967, Tukey shared his “reverse investment” plan with South Carolina’s then lieutenant governor, John C. West. West later adopted the key elements of Tukey’s international recruitment plan in his run for governor of South Carolina in 1970. Instead of using the South’s traditional sales pitch of cheap and docile labor, Tukey emphasized Spartanburg’s cooperative business environment, effective transportation network, and well-trained workforce. He was largely successful in his attempts to modernize and delocalize the South Carolina Piedmont’s business culture, making it more amenable for post–World War II economic realities. One of Tukey’s favorite slogans was “We don’t sell South Carolina’s magnolias and moonlight. We sell economic justification.”
By the time of Tukey’s death, Spartanburg and the South Carolina Piedmont had become an international success story of economic globalization. By the late 1970s approximately thirty percent of South Carolina’s industrial investment capital came from abroad. Tukey died from cancer in July 25, 1979, and was buried at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens in Spartanburg.
“Richard Tukey Mourned Here.” Spartanburg Journal, July 26, 1979, p. A1. Tunley, Roul. “In Spartanburg, the Accent Is on Business.” South Carolina Magazine 37, no. 3 (1973): 10–13.