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Bill Stroud passes at 77

New York — Honorable, decent, fair, and an honest-to-God gentleman. A visionary, a legend, a titan. And a man capable, through his own warm and generous spirit, of drawing together each year an entire splintered industry, competitors, rivals and friends alike, to play golf and raise money for charity. These are the things people were remembering about Bill Stroud last week.

With uncommon certainty, clarity and unanimity, a beleaguered industry paused to honor Stroud the day after his death last Thursday at the age of 77.

A Who's Who of the industry — past and present, suppliers and retailers, those who worked with him and those who competed against him — talked about Stroud with real feeling, for his qualities as a man as much as his business acumen and his creation of one of the nation's first specialty home fashion chains.

Mark Grand, coo, PHI, and a former colleague at Strouds: "Bill Stroud was a fair, decent and honorable man. I have known no one like him in my career. He treated suppliers, employees and customers with dignity, respect and compassion. I learned a lot from him about business and about life."

Norman Axelrod, ceo, Linens 'n Things: "He was a true gentleman, someone who genuinely cared for the industry. He touched the life of everyone he knew in and out of his organization."

David Kahn, ceo, Croscill Home Fashions: "One of the real mentshes of the industry. A total mentsh. He was one of the few people who made business fun. I always looked forward to meeting with him. Even when everything wasn't always going hunky-dory, he was a real gentleman. You always enjoyed working with him. And he was a genuine visionary in this industry. He was right there at the beginning of the home fashions specialty store business. And when he created that new upscale format eight, nine years ago, he showed people just how beautiful a store can be, not just comforters hung up on a wall the way they are everywhere else."

Dave Tracy, former executive and creator of the Ralph Lauren Home and Calvin Klein Home programs: "Bill was one of the prime innovators, one of the first out-of-the-box guys in this industry. He was on the cutting edge of retailing when he created his first store. He certainly got the ball rolling and helped to create what has developed into a huge home fashions specialty store business with guys like Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'n Things. And Bill was there first."

Howard Israel, former specialty store retailer: "He was truly an innovator. He was one of those people who fundamentally changed the business. He moved the focus out of department stores and into home fashions specialty chains. He was a colossus — that one man who could do all that."

Leo Hollander, chairman and ceo, Hollander Home Fashions: "The passing of a gentleman and a legend. And that's the truth. He was the epitome of a gentleman. A real pioneer and absolutely one of the best."

Bob Dale, president of the bed and bath division, WestPoint Stevens: "He was the most generous, the kindest, nicest person I ever met in my life. He was a man of integrity and clarity. My condolences to the family — they all are part of the culture of Bill Stroud. Knowing him was an incredible experience."

John Minihan, Louisville Bedding: "He certainly was a gentleman and a very nice man. And he had something that guys like Hy Baer and Bill Strunck at the old Bloomingdale's had — he had class, the real thing."

Kevin Finlay, president, Ellison Home: "Bill was a real friend, a personal friend. He was an incredible gentleman and a great spokesman for this industry."

Tom Ward, former president, WestPoint Stevens: "He was one of the finest human beings I ever met in my life. From a business or a personal standpoint, you could trust anything Bill said to you. And he wasn't just a nice guy, he was a very honorable man. He was the very personification of integrity."

Sue Kronick, group president for regional department stores, Federated Department Stores: "Bill had a great passion for our business. As one of the earlier founders of big-box specialty retailing, he brought great merchandising acumen and relationship skills to our industry. Most importantly, he was a compassionate, caring man. For me, his biggest legacy will be his warmth, humor and respect for others."

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