Gastonia native left his mark on Gaston County and Belk department store

Frank Matthews II, a Gaston County leader in business who was an essential part of the growth of Gaston County and the Belk department store chain, died Tuesday at his home. The Gastonia native was 95.

Matthews was the youngest of five children of the late Elizabeth Robinson Matthews and James Houston Matthews Sr.

Frank Matthews
Frank Matthews

"Growing up in a department store family, Frank learned from a young age the benefits of hard work, integrity, and perseverance and loved hearing the story of Mr. William Henry Belk sending his father to Gastonia to revamp and open the first Matthews-Belk store in the early 1900s," states his obituary.

After the first store gained traction, Houston Matthews Sr., along with his brothers and the Belk family, opened 18 stores in North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, Middle Georgia, and Texas.

In Howard Covington’s 1988 book "Belk," he wrote, “None of Belk’s partners had been with him longer than the Matthews brothers. They exemplified the loyalty of the partners to Henry Belk and the family style that characterized the Belk operation.”

After graduating from the former Davidson College in 1949, Matthews joined the Matthews-Belk Stores full time with his brother, Houston Matthews, Jr., and sister, Elizabeth Matthews. He rose through the ranks of the Belk organization and held the positions of executive vice president and supervising partner, president, and vice chairman. Matthews also served on numerous Belk Store corporations from the early 1950s until all store entities consolidated in 1998. Upon the completion of that merger, he became vice chairman of Belk Inc., the nation’s largest privately-owned department store until its sale in 2015.

"Frank counted himself fortunate to have worked alongside all of William Henry Belk’s children — John, Tom, Ike, Sarah, and Henderson — in building the Belk corporation. He had the deepest respect for the Belk family and felt privileged to have worked so closely with John Belk and Tom Belk; he enjoyed their partnership and friendship throughout the years. He also had the honor of working with the Belk family’s third generation as they continued the tradition of great leadership," according to his obituary.

Matthews also was a director of The Belk Foundation, which provides financial support to many educational institutions in the Carolinas and throughout the Southeast. After his retirement from Belk, he turned his attention to developing family legacy property in the Charlotte region with developers Childress Klein and Crosland Southeast on Waverly (Southeast Charlotte), Beacon Partners on The Square (SouthEnd), and The Keith Corporation on Kings Mountain Corporate Center.

He was a lifelong member of Gastonia’s First Presbyterian Church where he served as deacon, elder, Sunday school superintendent, Sunday school teacher, youth adviser with wife Betty, and later as elder emeritus.

In Gaston County's growth, he made his mark in innumerable ways. He helped organize the Gastonia Development Corp. and was a director of two publicly traded companies listed on the NYSE: Public Service Company of North Carolina, Inc. and Ti-Caro Inc. Matthews was a director and chairman of Gaston Federal Bank — predecessor of Citizen South Bank — for more than 36 years.

He also served on the boards of the United Way of Gaston County and Gaston County Family YMCA. He was a director of Gaston Chamber of Commerce, chairman of Gaston Community Foundation, and chairman of First Gaston Foundation and The David Belk Cannon Foundation.

Matthews served as a trustee at Davidson College, where he was on the board of advisors, then served 12 years as a trustee and chaired the Regional Campaign (1992-1995) as part of the Campaign for Davidson. He was later honored as trustee emeritus.

Matthews served his country in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1949-1965, commissioned as a second lieutenant and honorably discharged as a captain.

He was preceded in death by the love of his life, Betty Choate Matthews, to whom he was married for 63 years; his daughter, Harriet Matthews Jackson; and his grandson, Franklin Matthews Jackson.

Matthews is survived by his children: Eugene R. Matthews II and wife, Katherine (Gastonia, NC); and Mary Matthews Vaughn and husband, Vernon, (Gastonia, NC); four grandchildren: Peter Kemp Jackson II (Aiken, SC); Benjamin Franklin Matthews III and wife, Melanie (Charlotte, NC); Katherine Matthews Darling and husband, Edward (Charlotte, NC); and Elizabeth Vaughn Edwards and husband, Duke (Greenville, NC); and six great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, at First Presbyterian Church, 1621 E. Garrison Blvd. A reception will follow immediately in Fellowship Hall. A private service of committal will be held for the family at Oakwood Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to First Presbyterian Church, 1621 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia, NC 28054 or to Covenant Village Benevolent Fund, 1351 Robinwood Rd., Gastonia, NC 28054.

McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the family of Mr. Matthews.

This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Gastonia native left mark on Gaston County and Belk department store