Thomas F. Garner

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

RICHMOND—Thomas Fleetwood Garner, 94, died Jan. 29, 2008, at his home.

Mr. Garner, a retired aviation executive, investor, and philanthropist, he operated aviation facilities and distributor-ships around Virginia and along the East coast, including Roanoke, Hot Springs, Richmond’s Byrd Field (now RIC) and Bartow, Fla., where his civilian programs under government contract trained several thousand U.S. Air Force pilots during 1951 to 1959.

He was inducted into the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society Aviation Hall of Fame in 1986.

As an entrepreneur, he started in partnership with his father, Chesley T. Garner, in the fertilizer, trucking and ham businesses in Isle of Wight County. During World War II, he branched out on his own, first into aviation, operating primary flight schools for the U.S. Navy.

Then, after marrying and moving to Richmond in 1945, he invested in local businesses, including the Clover Room and Richmond Dairy.

He also established Garner’s Old Virginia Hams in Ivor. In 1947, he sponsored a record-breaking P-51 Mustang flight from Washington to Havana, carrying a 15 pound ham as a gift from Governor Tuck to the President of Cuba.

By 1960, he retired from active operation of his various businesses, which had some 1,000 employees by the end of the 1950s, to concentrate on land investment and real estate development in California, especially in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where he and his wife, Anna, also had a winter home.

He loved to tell jokes, and amused many a friend and new-found acquaintance during his retirement years with his very informative business card, stating: &uot;No Name, No address, No Phone, No Worries.&uot; Fleetwood and Anna Garner engaged themselves in many philanthropic activities to develop and sustain such local institutions as the Science Museum of Virginia, Virginia Opera Association, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Home, Collegiate Schools, and the Virginia Aviation Museum, among others.

He served as director of the Richmond Memorial Hospital and was a founding supporter of the Eisenhower Memorial Hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Locally, he was a member of the Commonwealth Club and the Country Club of Virginia.

In 2005, he was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Anna Lauder Garner.

Survivors include his two sons, Thomas F. Garner Jr. and wife Carolyn of Richmond and William V. Garner and his wife Wendy of Washington, D.C.; and his four grandchildren, Gavin Thomas Garner, Tamsin Anna Garner Harrington and husband Jake, Elizabeth Storm Garner,and Hannah Granville Garner.

The family will receive friends today from 4 to 6 p.m. at the James River Clubhouse of the Country Club of Virginia on 709 S. Gaskins Road.

Interment will be private in Hollywood Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Virginia Aviation Museum, 5701 Huntsman Road, Richmond, Va. 23250-2416.