Jan. 22—HOUSTON — Hassell Franklin, the founder and longtime chairman of the Franklin Corp. in Houston, died Sunday night. He was 87.
Throughout his life and career, Franklin shared his support, expertise and treasure with local communities, economic development organizations, and educational and philanthropic efforts.
Dan Rollins, chairman and CEO of Cadence Bank, said Franklin will be greatly missed.
“We express our most sincere condolences to the family of Hassell Franklin for their loss,” he said. “We will miss Hassell dearly and appreciate the many contributions he made to our company during the 42 years he served on our board of directors. During his tenure, the company saw significant growth, with an impressive annualized growth rate of 11%. We are forever indebted to Hassell for his generous leadership and service.”
Rollins said Franklin’s legacy continues at the bank, allowing them to “help the people, companies and communities we serve prosper.”
In addition to Franklin’s impact on the bank, Rollins remembered him as a close friend and mentor.
“Hassell had such a tremendous impact on me personally and was largely responsible for bringing me and my family to Tupelo,” Rollins said. “He was a great mentor and an even greater friend, and I will cherish the memories of our time together. May he rest in peace and may his family find comfort and courage during this difficult time.”
Patsy Gregory, executive director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation, said Franklin was also a mentor to her.
“Hassell Franklin was so many things to so many,” she said. “He was an entrepreneur who started a business in Houston, that impacts so many lives in Northeast Mississippi and has grown this into an international company. His tremendous impact can be felt on the business environment across the country.”
Former Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. called Franklin an admirable and great man who “grew up in modest means and brought himself up by the bootstraps.”
“He is one of the most generous people in Mississippi, from helping high school kids with scholarships to creating the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State,” Reed said. “He just cared about people, wanting to give them the quality of life to have a good home and life in Northeast Mississippi.”
Franklin served on numerous boards, including the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, BancorpSouth (now Cadence Bank), North Mississippi Health Services, the CREATE Foundation, Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, the Community Development Foundation, Itawamba Community College Foundation, Leadership Chickasaw, Habitat for Humanity, Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Furniture Foundation Board.
“Hassell Franklin was one of the great success stories in the history of Northeast Mississippi. The furniture company he built impacted the lives of thousands of people in our region. His business success is only part of his story. He had a strong faith, clearly loved Mississippi State, and wanted to make the region where he lived better for everyone,” said CREATE President Mike Clayborne. “He frequently said, ‘We need to raise the bar to get to another level of success.’ He was a person who not only invested his resources. He invested his time. He made it a priority to be present for the things he cared about. A truly great man.”
Franklin, a 1953 Tupelo High School graduate, went on to Mississippi State, where in 1959 he received a degree in industrial engineering.
He founded Franklin Corporation in 1970 in Chickasaw County. The Houston-based company has grown into one of the largest privately-owned furniture manufacturers in the United States.
Franklin’s generosity extended deeply into Mississippi State’s academic and athletic programs, and university President Mark E. Keenum said MSU could always count on him.
“Hassell Franklin has been dedicated in every possible way throughout his life to supporting the work of his beloved Mississippi State University,” Keenum said. “His steadfast support of MSU athletics and our academic programs is second to none. Through board service, philanthropy and his considerable influence, Hassell exhibited a servant’s heart and a fine Christian example. During my tenure as president, I have often relied on his wise counsel. I pray God’s peace for Hassell and his wonderful family.”
Franklin had been honored in recent years by many of the organizations he supported, recognizing his philanthropic efforts.
In 2020, he, along with Aubrey Patterson, H.L. “Sandy Williams and the late Bobby Martin, were honored as recipients of the Jack Reed Sr. Northeast Mississippi Community Leadership Award.
In 2019, Franklin was the Red Raspberry Humanitarian Award recipient, helping Region Rehabilitation Center raise more than $200,000.
“His legacy is giving back,” said retired furniture executive Mickey Holliman at the time. Holliman served with Franklin on several boards.
In 2003, Franklin, along with his friend Holliman, were inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame. A year later, Franklin was awarded the 2004 Tozzoli International Leadership Award. The award is named for Guy F. Tozzoli, who is president of the World Trade Centers Association based in New York.
Reed said Franklin was close friends with his father and later became a role model and “great friends as well” with him.
“He cared for the entire region and state, and he put his money where his mouth was,” Reed said. “He was truly a pillar of the community, of Northeast Mississippi.”
Gregory said Franklin had development countless leaders and selflessly gave his time and resources to help others.
“Houston especially feels his impact in building the community and increasing the quality of life for so many,” she said.”Houston continues to feel his footprint in many areas as he worked to develop many charitable organizations and rolled up his sleeves to make them flourish. As a pillar in the community, he not only worked to make Houston a better place but used his talents to better Northeast Mississippi.”