Greenville businessman, textile leader Mark Kent has died

September 25, 2017

Mark B. Kent, a Greenville businessman, community leader and self-described people-person who dove into his family’s textile legacy at a young age, died unexpectedly on Sunday night. He was 55. 

Thomas McAfee Funeral Home is handling the services. The Greenville County Coroner's Office said Kent died at Greenville Memorial Medical Center, when he went into cardiac arrest. 

Kent, president and CEO of Kentwool, a textile manufacturing company started in 1843 in Pennsylvania, was the fifth generation of Kents to run the company and served for more than 20 years. 

Kent's father, Warren Thompson "Tom" Kent, moved the company to Pickens in the 1950s, and later closed operations in Philadelphia in 1965, according to Greenville News archives. 

"Kentwool flourished under Mark’s leadership, and his loss is felt deeply across the entire organization," the company said by email on Monday afternoon. 

The company described Kent as an "astute businessman," who will be best remembered for his kindness, his generosity, his exceptional character and infectious smile. 

"Mark was a service-focused leader and man who was committed to serving his family and friends, his employees and his customers," Kentwool said. 

To honor Kent's legacy, the company said it will continue to deliver exceptional products and experiences to its customers "in a manner in which Mark would have been proud." 

"Our deepest and most heartfelt sympathies are with the Kent family during this tremendously difficult time, and our most sincere thanks go out to so many members of the Greenville community who have shared their condolences and support with us today," the statement said. 

Kent was a graduate of Wake Forest University, Clemson University’s School of Textiles and the work training program of the Australian Wool Corp. 

Soon after graduation, he was elected chairman of the American Textile Import Co. at 26 and was 29 when he became president of Kent Manufacturing Co. in the early 1990s. 

Outside of his company, Kent held several board positions, including on the American Textile Export Company, the Upstate South Carolina Charter of the American Red Cross and the Historic Greenville Foundation. 

He was named several years ago Red Cross' Philanthropist of the Year in the eight-state Red Cross Southeastern region. 

He also served on the boards of Christ Church Episcopal School and the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control, and held a seat on the State Ports Authority. 

Kent was a Class of 2006 Liberty Fellow, a seminar series of leaders hand-picked each year. 

He also was a regular guest columnist featured in The Greenville News and was known to give back to his community. 

In 2005, the J.E. Sirrine Textile Foundation, of which Kent was the president at the time, donated $5.6 million to Clemson University's textile programs to partially endow two chairs in the fields of glass optical fibers and polymer fibers.

"The good news: There is a future in textiles. It may not look like the textiles of the 20th century. But it's here," Kent told the newspaper then. "Times have been changing and we, too, must change." 

Mayor Knox White said that Kent was a believer in preserving historic buildings in Greenville “before it was a thing to do.”

Kent was the first to step in and save historic sites such as the old chamber building across from City Hall and the Cigar Factory building at Court Street, he said. 

Kent not only bought them, White said, but he also spent substantial resources transforming them. 

“He was really such a great model to others after that,” White said.

Kent loved golf, too, which lent itself to another sector for Kentwool: the sock business. 

"My feet were blistered (after) three days of walking mountain courses," Kent told The News in 2013 after he participated in the BMW Charity Pro-Am. "I leaned over to my caddy while we were waiting to hit and said, 'Why doesn't anybody make a great golf sock?' And he turned back to me and said, 'Why don't you do it?'"

Kent told the newspaper in 2002 his life and legacy could have been different. 

On Sept. 12, 1962, Kent was born in a Philadelphia hospital weighing just 4 pounds. He was without parents. 

That day, Elaine Kent, a mother of two, asked to adopt him.

"I had no future – no mother or father to claim me. I was struggling for life at an early age," he told the newspaper. "Knowing that story, I'm very grateful every day."

After his dad died in 1992, Kent threw himself into community service, even finding time to coach youth soccer and basketball. 

"I tend to get involved in things I'm emotional about," Kent said, "and also because I have a really hard time saying, 'No.'"

More than anything, Kent was a people person. 

"I like people," he told the paper. "Often, that's the thing that drives me. You can learn a great deal from talking to people."