Published February 8, 2007
He was “beloved because he loved.” Rawson Haverty Sr. loved his family and friends. He loved his work. He loved Atlanta. And he loved the Catholic Church.
The Holy Spirit Church parishioner died Jan. 26 at the age of 86.
At the Mass of the Resurrection held for Mr. Haverty at his parish Jan. 30, family, friends and colleagues packed the pews leaving standing room only.
A decorated World War II veteran, his casket was draped with a simple American flag and rested in the middle of the church, which he had helped to build.
At the Mass, the tributes depicted Mr. Haverty, who led his family’s business, Haverty Furniture Companies, Inc., for decades, as a man who used his wealth humbly and, above all, for the good of others.
Born in Atlanta on Nov. 26, 1920, to Clarence and Elizabeth Rawson Haverty, Mr. Haverty attended the University of Georgia, graduating in 1941. He then joined Haverty Furniture Companies, which was started in 1885 by his grandfather, J.J. Haverty.
He worked in the company’s credit department until 1942, when he was called into active duty as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
He commanded tank companies in the 3rd and 11th Armored Divisions. He participated in the invasion of Normandy (D-Day plus 6), the Battle of Normandy, the Battle of France, the Battle of Belgium and the Battle of Germany. His unit met the Russians on the Elbe River. He received among other decorations, the Bronze Star, a Commendation Ribbon, the Belgium Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Order of Leopold with Palm Cavalier Class 9 (Belgium) and the European Theatre Ribbon with four campaign stars. He was honorably discharged in 1945 with the rank of major.
Upon his return from Europe, he rejoined Haverty Furniture Companies in January 1946. He served as secretary, vice president, and treasurer, before becoming president in 1955 and later chairman in 1974. He served until 2000, and was chairman emeritus until 2003.
Mr. Haverty served as a leader of numerous civic boards and committees, among them, as the chairman of the board of trustees of Saint Joseph’s Hospital from 1972 to 1982, as a chairman of MARTA in 1970, and as president of the University of Georgia Alumni Association from 1973-75, and trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation. He was chairman of the board of Bank South from 1977 to 1991.
His church was first in his heart, and he served as chairman of the first Archdiocesan Finance Committee in 1964, staying on the board for 14 years. A longtime supporter of the Village of St. Joseph, which now offers counseling services for adults, families and children, Mr. Haverty began serving when it was a residence for children in Washington, Ga., and was a member of its board for 18 years, first board president and first honorary life trustee.
He chaired a 1983 archdiocesan campaign that raised $7.2 million for archdiocesan personal care homes for the elderly, expansion and renovation efforts at St. Pius X High School, and scholarships for inner city Catholic schools. He was recognized as “man of the year” by the archdiocese in 1983.
For his service to the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Mr. Haverty was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory, a papal honor bestowed by Pope John Paul II, in 1990.
But in a less public manner, Mr. Haverty also served as a member of the welcoming committee at Holy Spirit Church for decades, standing on the steps of the parish and welcoming parishioners and guests to Mass.
Msgr. Edward Dillon, the pastor, who celebrated the funeral Mass, recalled Mr. Haverty as “very much in the background.”
“Although he did so much for the parish and for the archdiocese, he was a quiet worker. He was unassuming and humble.”
He told of one Sunday when he was running late to celebrate the 8:30 a.m. Mass. Mr. Haverty, Msgr. Dillon said, was already there, greeting those arriving for Mass.
“He introduced himself to me and said, ‘Good morning, Msgr. Dillon. Welcome to Holy Spirit Church,’” Msgr. Dillon said with a laugh. “From then on, it became a joke that whenever I’d see him, I’d say, ‘Good morning, Mr. Haverty. Welcome to Holy Spirit Church.’”
Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue concelebrated the Mass, along with eight priests of the archdiocese.
In his homily, Msgr. Dillon said that though there is grief, there is a celebration of Mr. Haverty’s life, and especially his faith, present at the Mass.
“We should make an effort on a continuing basis to deepen our relationship with the Father. Rawson was a wonderful example of that and someone for all of us to try to emulate.”
His son, J. Rawson Haverty Jr., later gave a moving eulogy, describing his father as a family man, who lived his life as a teacher, always hoping to set an example for his five children. He said his father was respected and admired by the community, and that he took that responsibility very seriously.
“When you first met Rawson Haverty, you’d like him. … It only took one smile, one word, and you’d like him. He had a sparkle in his eye,” the younger Haverty said. “Once you got to know him, you admired him. … You respected him for all his qualities. … In time, admiration became love. And that’s what stands above all. My father was beloved because he loved.”
Mr. Haverty carried the same Bible with him that he had taken into war. It contained a folded-up newspaper clipping—an obituary of Mother Teresa, who his son said was a “guiding role model” for his life.
“Dad believed his life could be a witness to others,” he said. “He wanted his life to bless others simply by his example.”
When his son began working at Havertys, his father, he said, “never favored me. He favored all of us and he blessed us by treating us as our peers.”
It was at home, though, that Mr. Haverty was the happiest. Their home was a “beehive of activity,” and “Dad loved it.”
Haverty spoke of a family trip they took to Europe in 1974. Standing at the Roman Forum, Mr. Haverty produced notes on the history of the structure, giving his children an impromptu history lesson. He was soon surrounded by a crowd.
“There were mostly backpackers—15 to 20 kids who couldn’t help but be pulled in,” Haverty recalled.
He was devoted to Margaret, his wife of 55 years, his son said.
“Dad always told us that the most important gift you could give your children was to love their mother. And then he showed us,” he said.
He spoke of the night before his father died, when he was surrounded by family, as well as doctors and nurses, “who, like us, loved him, too.” His last words, his son said, were “I love you.”
“His last thought was to make sure we all knew he loved us. Stripped of his strength, and health, and even his life, his message was love. Pass it on,” Haverty said.
In addition to his wife, the former Margaret Middleton Munnerlyn of Jacksonville, Fla., and his son, Rawson Jr. of Atlanta, Mr. Haverty is survived by his son, Ben, of Atlanta; his three daughters, Peggy Haverty Glover of Ponte Vedra, Fla., Jane Middleton Haverty of Atlanta and Liz Haverty Bousson of Easthampton, N.Y.; and by his 12 grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Betty Haverty Smith of Atlanta. His grandson J. Jeffrey Langford predeceased him.