Blake Lovette, former president of Holly Farms and a community leader in Wilkes County, died Tuesday morning with his family present at Forsyth Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem. He had had a brief illness.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

In addition to holding top corporate positions with poultry companies, Lovette served in Wilkes as a member of the Wilkes Board of Education (elected in 1996), on the boards of Wilkes Regional Medical Center for eight years (including five years as chairman), Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (including as chairman) and Wilkes Art Gallery. He also was on the Wilkes Social Services Board.

At the time of his death, Lovette was chairman of the Wilkes County Republican Party. He was the owner of Foothills Auto Spa in Wilkesboro.

Lovette, one of the seven children of C.O. and Ruth Bumgarner Lovette, was born on Dec. 19, 1942. He was raised on the family farm and sometimes spoke of the work ethic he learned from his parents and from working with his siblings.

Lovette graduated from West Wilkes High School in 1961. After graduating from North Carolina State University in 1965, he went to work in quality control for Wilkesboro-based Holly Farms. His older brother, the late Fred Lovette, was the primary founder of Holly Farms.

Two years later, Lovette became a Holly Farms plant manager in Temperenceville, Va. In 1976, he returned to Wilkes when he was named Holly’s executive vice president.

In 1978, Lovette left Holly and moved to Russellville, Ark., to be executive vice president of Valmac Industries Inc. He was named chief executive officer a year later. Lovette developed a line of prepared products for Valmac during his six years with the poultry company.

He left Valmac to work for Perdue Farms in 1985, where he served as president of Perdue’s Shenandoah Products Corp. Lovette returned to Holly Farms in 1988 as Holly’s president and chief operating officer.

Lovette held this top Holly position through the period in which Tyson Foods acquired Holly. He left Tyson in the fall of 1990 when he bought Lovette Egg Co. from Wilkes native Terry Bumgarner.

Lovette renamed the company, which his father started, the Lovette Co. He owned and operated the wholesale meat and poultry distributor until he sold it to Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Poultry Co. in 1998.

Lovette was president of ConAgra Poultry from 1998 until he retired in 2003, the same year Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride became the nation’s second largest poultry producer when it acquired ConAgra Poultry.

Lovette served on the boards of Pilgrim’s Pride and Morris & Associates Inc., which makes refrigeration equipment used in the poultry and other industries. He also worked as a consultant in the poultry industry.

He also was on the boards of numerous industry-related organizations, including the National Chicken Council (including three years as chairman), U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, American Poultry Export Council, N.C. Poultry Federation and Arkansas Poultry Federation.

Lovette was inducted into the N.C. Poultry Federation Hall of Fame in 2010.

He was a member of the First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro and was a strong supporter of Wilkes Community College, Rainbow Center of Wilkes, Health Foundation, Yadkin River Greenway, Old Wilkes Inc. and other local organizations.

Their children are Sena Lovette of Conway, Ark., Angela Lovette Ware of Winston-Salem and Amy Lovette Lankford of Madison, Ala. Lovette has six grandchildren.

Lovette married his high school sweetheart, Julia Wooten Lovette of Millers Creek, on June 30, 1963. Mrs. Lovette died in December 2008.

He is survived by their three children, Sena Lovette-Crafton and husband Hal Crafton of Conway, Ark.; Angela Lovette Ware and husband David Ware of Winston Salem; and Amy Lovette Lankford and husband Ted Lankford of Cary. He is also survived by six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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