Soft Sheen co-founder, civic leader Edward Gardner dies
"My father saw the untapped potential of his community. He believed that with access to opportunity, hard work, a quality education and safe neighborhoods, there is nothing we can't achieve." —Terri Gardner
Beloved Chicago philanthropist Edward Gardner, the co-founder of Soft Sheen Products hair care company, died Monday at age 98, CBS News reports.
Gardner and his wife Bettiann founded the company in 1964. By the late 1980s, the company was one of the largest Black-owned beauty brands in the country. Gardner sold the business in 1998.
Born in 1925 to a warehouse worker and a seamstress in the West Chesterfield neighborhood, Gardner was a teacher and administrator for several years in Chicago Public Schools during a time when he was getting his hair care line off the ground. As a side job, Gardner would personally deliver the products out of the back of his car to beauty salons on Chicago’s South Side, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
As an activist and civic leader, Gardner raised $300,000 with Soft Sheen’s resources 40 years ago, according to a news release. With this war chest, he mounted a campaign that registered more than 200,000 voters. In part, this effort resulted in the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first Black mayor.
In 2012, at age 87, Gardner organized more than 1,000 protesters in response to a South Side construction site’s lack of Black workers.
Gardner’s charitable contributions were in the tens of thousands of dollars to fight gun violence. In fact, he created a nonprofit organization called Black On Black Love to address violence. “If there was a violent event where someone was at the hospital and needed help, he would write a check to that family,” Gardner’s son, Gary Gardner said, the Sun-Times reports.
As a patron of the arts, Gardner and his wife were instrumental in the development of the New Regal Theater (now the Avalon Regal Theater) a noted venue for Black performers. He was also a board member of Chicago United and The Chicago Urban League, as well as co-owner of the Chicago Bulls.
“He was my father, my hero, my teacher,” Gary Gardner said in a news release. “He taught me how to engage people with humanity and humility.”
Gardner’s daughter, Terri, said: “My father saw the untapped potential of his community. He believed that with access to opportunity, hard work, a quality education and safe neighborhoods, there is nothing we can’t achieve.”
Gardner served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II and later earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State University) and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago under the GI Bill.
His survivors also include two other children, Guy and Tracy, his wife, seven grandchildren and a great-grandson, the Sun-Times reports.
According to CBS News, a private family service is planned. Instead of flowers, donations to Chicago State University can be made here.
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