Don Mabe, Perdue Farms’ former leader, dies at 88

Frank Perdue, Don Mabe and Jim Perdue in a photo from the 1980s.

Donald Wilson Mabe Sr., the renowned former President and CEO of Perdue Farms, died Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, following a prolonged illness. He was 88 years old and was a resident of Georgetown, S.C.

Don Mabe.

A native of Kernersville, N.C., he graduated from North Carolina State University and then served for two years in the U.S. Army Infantry, leaving as a 1st Lieutenant.

In 1957, he and his wife, Flo, moved to Salisbury, when he accepted a position with Perdue Farms as a broiler flock supervisor.

Because of his personal initiative, innovativeness and integrity, he moved quickly through a number of positions within the Perdue organization, rising to the level of Chief Executive Officer in 1988 — the position he held at the time of his retirement in 1991.

In that position, he had full responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Perdue Farms.

Previously for the company, he was responsible for segments managing sales of live broilers, hatching egg production, grain and feed mill operations, and broiler processing. In 1979, he was named president of the company.

When he joined Perdue, sales were $3 million and the company had 100 employees. When he retired, sales were more than $1 billion and the company had over 12,000 employees.

He was Instrumental in helping Frank Perdue and his staff launch programs that showed the power of quality products, and of quality advertising and marketing. He understood the importance of and was deeply Involved in the hiring of well trained, high-quality personnel. 

“I personally admired Don because he believed strongly in all of Perdue’s values, especially trust, teamwork and integrity and was highly respected by all associates, including Dad (Frank Perdue),” said Chairman Jim Perdue. “The fact that Don led a very balanced life, with family, church and community as important as the company had a big impact on how I wanted to spend my time. In short, Don was like family to this company.”

He proudly believed in people and had confidence that if the employees of Perdue Farms were treated right, the company would be successful. The consumers of Perdue’s products and their needs were of utmost Importance to him. He was one of the major Influences in Perdue’s straightforward approach to developing and shaping markets through advertising and the delivery of quality products.

He served on business and nonprofit boards during his career and after retirement. These included the boards of Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Delmarva Power & Light, YMCA of the Eastern Shore and Helping Hands of Georgetown, S.C.

In 1983, he received Delmarva’s Distinguished Service Award and in 1986 was recognized with the Outstanding Alumnus Award for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, the highest recognition given for former students of the university.

He and his wife established the Mabe Scholarship Endowment in the N.C. Agricultural Foundation, which annually provides a scholarship for a student following in his footsteps in the NCSU Department of Poultry Science.

He was predeceased by his parents, Harry Lee Mabe and Cornell Wilson Mabe; and his wife of 67 years, Florabel Joyce Mabe.

He is survived by his children, Carol Lee Mabe of Georgetown, S.C., James Glenn Mabe of Lexington, S.C., Nan Mabe Polgardi of New Bern, N.C., and Donald Wilson Mabe Jr. of Beaufort, S.C.; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was held Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Georgetown Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, where the Mabes were members since 1995.

Donations may be made to Helping Hands of Georgetown, 1813 Highmarket St., Georgetown, SC 29440.

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