Manufacturer was also a philanthropist

Carroll Edwards built a fortune and a philanthropic legacy constructing simple wooden pallets in his hometown of Marshville in eastern Union County.

After working as a truck driver, he started his business in 1969 in a renovated chicken house. He grew Edwards Wood Products into one of the nation's largest manufacturers of wooden pallets, essential in shipping, storage and many other industries.

Edwards, 71, died Sunday after being diagnosed recently with acute leukemia, said his wife, Elona.

The couple contributed heavily to many Union County charities. In 2000, he gave $500,000 to build a library named for his mother, Lois Morgan Edwards, who died when he was 8. The Edwardses later contributed an undisclosed six-figure sum to CMC-Union hospital's cancer center, which is named for them.

The son of a Marshville cattle salesman, Edwards sold two trucks for $20,000 to start his business. (He had hauled brick and sand since he was 18, Elona Edwards said.) Today, the company makes about 100,000 pallets a week and employs about 400 people in its pallet-making operation and offshoot lumber and trucking businesses in Union, Alamance and Scotland counties. It is one of the largest manufacturers in the $5.2 billion industry, said Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based industry group. Bundles of almost any product are placed on pallets so they can be moved with forklifts.

“He was a hardworking man. He got up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and got home at night,” Elona Edwards said. “Many times, he'd go a week and not see his children awake.”

The couple began charitable donations before they could afford them. He believed they would be returned 10-fold, his wife says, and they were. Among charities that benefited were Hospice of Union County; Turning Point, a shelter for battered women; ARC, an advocacy group for the mentally disabled; and the Literacy Council of Union County.

“He's going to be missed a lot in this community,” said former District Attorney Kenneth Honeycutt, a longtime friend.

Edwards also donated thousands to N.C. political candidates, mostly Democrats – Gov. Jim Hunt and U.S. Sen. John Edwards, to name a few. He also supported Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Robin Hayes of Concord and Sue Myrick of Charlotte.

Hunt appointed Edwards in 1993 to the powerful N.C. Board of Transportation. Edwards was credited with bringing much-needed road money to Union County. He stepped down from the board in 1997 after newspaper articles reported he voted to pave a road leading to his business and to widen another. He denied wrongdoing and said the projects met state road-building guidelines.

In addition to his wife of 51years, Edwards is survived by his sister Linda Edwards; son Jeff; daughters Tina Edwards and Lisa Ammons; four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Funeral arrangements are by Gordon Funeral and Cremation Services of Monroe. A memorial will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday at The George A. Batte Jr. Fine Arts Center at Wingate University. Burial will follow at the cemetery of Union Grove Baptist Church in Marshville.