Gaston County textile executive J.M. ‘Bip’ Carstarphen dead at age 81

J.M. “Bip” Carstarphen, CEO of McAdenville-based Pharr Yarns, died Tuesday at CaroMont Regional Medical Center at age 81.

During a career that spanned more than a half-century, he guided the company during a time of great change in the textile industry.

Carstarphen lived on Mockingbird Lane in “Christmas Town USA,” birthplace of the annual Pharr Yarns-sponsored Christmas lights display.

A 2002 Observer story described him as “soft spoken and genial, more Southern gentleman than president of a company with $325 million in sales last year.”

“He was a great business and community leader,” said Gaston County commissioner Joe Carpenter. “In his work he provided jobs to so many people, and hopefully that will continue in McAdenville. I got to know him quite well, and he was a friend. He was a friend to anybody he ever met. He’ll be greatly missed.”

McAdenville Mayor Farrell Buchanan called Carstarphen “a fine man.”

“When I needed advice as mayor, Bip is who I went to,” Buchanan said. “He did a lot for McAdenville and Gaston County as a whole. This is a great loss for our community and the surrounding area.”

Textile executive Dan LaFar of Gastonia said his friend will “forever be remembered as a very strong leader in the textile industry with the utmost integrity and moral values.”

A native of Tarboro, Carstarphen graduated from Augusta Military Academy and UNC Chapel Hill. He was a U.S. Army veteran.

In 1955, he married Catherine Ann Stowe Pharr, whose father, William Pharr, had taken over ownership of McAden Mills in 1939 along with Daniel Stowe, son of Gaston mill owner R.L Stowe. Pharr had married Daniel Stowe’s sister, Catherine, in 1927.

Carstarphen began working at Pharr Yarns in 1956 and moved up to management and executive positions.

According to “The Textile Heritage of Gaston County” by Robert Ragan, Carstarphen “became Mr. Pharr’s most valued associate and was visible in the growth and prosperity of the firm over the next two decades.”

At its peak in the 1970s, the company had 6,000 employees and 15 mills in Gaston County, South Carolina, Georgia, California and one in Holland.

Pharr diversified the company from cotton to synthetic fabrics. When Pharr died in 1981, Carstarphen took over as CEO/chairman of the board and shifted the company focus from apparel to carpet fibers. He was also chairman of Pharr International in Geneva, Switzerland.

Carstarphen served on many area boards and was a recipient of the Spirit of the Carolinas Award and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

In 2006, the J.M. Carstarphen Bridge on N.C. 7 over the South Fork River was dedicated in his honor.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church in Belmont. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the church.