Whether it was leading one of the nation’s largest poultry companies or the Wilkes County Republican Party, Blake Lovette was driven to make things better.
When Lovette died at age 77 on Sept. 29, Wilkes lost an effective leader in many areas of life.
He was a member of a family well known in the poultry industry but made his mark on his own, leading some of the industry’s largest companies. In those roles, Lovette was demanding and pragmatic, but forward-thinking and ethical. He benefited from a keen work ethic ingrained early in life on a family farm in Millers Creek.
During his career, Lovette was president of Chicago-based ConAgra and Perdue Farms’ Shenandoah Products Corp., and CEO of Valmac Industries Inc. He also served on the boards of Pilgrim’s Pride and Morris & Associates Inc. He was a leader in professional organizations in the poultry industry.
Lovette began his career at Wilkesboro-based Holly Farms, founded primarily by his brother, Fred Lovette. He was executive vice president of Holly Farms when he left it in 1976, but returned to Wilkes over a decade later when he was needed at Holly as its president and chief operating officer.
Lovette had the difficult job of leading Holly Farms when it faced competing forced takeover bids by ConAgra and Tyson Foods, which ended with Tyson coming out on top in 1989.
He left Holly Farms after it was acquired by Tyson but remained in Wilkes when he bought Lovette Egg Co., which he renamed Lovette Co. It was started by his father, Charles Odell “C.O.” Lovette.
Wilkes businessman Terry Bumgarner, his lifelong friend and a distant kinsman, said Lovette was committed to working for the betterment of his native county. Bumgarner added that he loved and was deeply committed to his family.
Lovette was elected to the Wilkes Board of Education. He chaired both the Wilkes Regional Medical Center and Wilkes Economic Development Corp. boards and was also on the Wilkes Art Gallery and Wilkes Social Services boards. He was in his first year as Wilkes County Republican Party chairman at the time of his death. Lovette assumed these roles with the energy and attention to details he employed in the corporate world.
It was apparent that he enjoyed his longstanding relationships with the people of Wilkes. On Election Day during this year’s primary, Lovette and Bill Anderson, former Wilkes sheriff, visited the polling places of each precinct in the sprawling county.
Lovette’s most notable legacy is his positive influence on many individuals and institutions in Wilkes. He helped hundreds of local young people learn good work habits while employing them in recent years at his Foothills Auto Spa in Wilkesboro.
One way his positive influence continues is through the Julia and Blake Lovette Scholarship for the Study of the Sciences, which helps West Wilkes High School graduates attend college to pursue science-related careers. They were high school sweethearts at West Wilkes and had been married for 45 years when Julia Wooten Lovette died in 2008. Gifts can be sent to the scholarship fund at 3737 Glenwood Ave. Suite 460, Raleigh, N.C., 27612.