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John R Marchant

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John Roland Marchant

John Roland Marchant of Irvington, a Middlesex County native who joined Miller & Rhoads department stores in Richmond in 1936 and retired in 1978 as the company’s president and chief executive officer, died December 4, 2008. He was 95 and resided at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury in Irvington.

Mr. Marchant was born on a farm in Middlesex in 1913 and the family later moved to Urbanna. He attended Christchurch School and Hampden-Sydney College before meeting a Miller & Rhoads executive on the docks in Urbanna where they both kept sailboats.

The executive offered Mr. Marchant a temporary holiday job as supervisor of elevator operators in the downtown Richmond store. He stayed with the company for the rest of his career, working in the men’s department and in many other positions over the years.

In 1957, he was named manager of the new Miller & Rhoads store in Roanoke. In 1962, he became vice-president and manager of all the stores outside the Richmond area. He was promoted to company president in 1968, serving until his retirement in 1978.

Before malls were developed in the suburbs, downtown Richmond department stores such as Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers were well known and visited frequently by shoppers throughout the state. Mr. Marchant maintained the traditional values established at Miller & Rhoads over decades.

His son, W. Reilly Marchant of Richmond, said his father’s tenure was during the time when one could buy a $3 tie from the store and it would be delivered to your home in the city in a Miller & Rhoads truck by a man in a uniform and hat, and there would be no additional charge.

He said his father was always dapper and well-dressed, reflecting the store and exemplifying the atmosphere in the city of Richmond during that period of time.

Mr. Marchant was “the quintessential Southern gentleman through and through,” said his son-in-law Charles Chase of Kilmarnock.

Mr. Marchant was honored by his hometown by being named grand marshal of the Urbanna Oyster Festival in 1975. Family members recall that the car in which he was riding broke down and had to be pulled by a tow truck along the parade route, but he took the incident in stride and with good humor.

Mr. Marchant served on the boards of many organizations, including Christchurch School, Collegiate School, the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, the Salvation Army, United Virginia Bank, Richmond Memorial Hospital, Richmond Eye Hospital and the Richmond Symphony.

He was a member of Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club, the Commonwealth Club and the Country Club of Virginia.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Lillian “Lil” Reilly Marchant, who died May 21 this year; a son, John R. Marchant Jr.; a brother, Avalon Blackburn Marchant Jr.; and two sisters, Virginia Marchant Mills and Emily Marchant Hilbert.

Surviving are his daughter and son-in-law, Christine M. and Charles C. Chase II of Kilmarnock; his son and daughter-in-law, W. Reilly and Beth Marchant of Richmond; four grandchildren, Meg and Reilly Marchant, Marchant Chase and wife Susan, and Anne Gilbert Chase; many nieces and nephews and a lifelong family friend, Virginia Burton of Urbanna.

A graveside service was held Saturday at Historic Christ Church in Irvington.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Foundation for Historic Christ Church, P.O. Box 24, Irvington, VA 22480.

posted 12.11.2008

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