Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER>> Warren Knight: Visionary who did a world of good

by GARRICK FELDMAN
Publisher

A gentle rain fell Sunday evening only hours after Warren Knight passed away in his sleep at the age of 71 in his Cabot home.
Somebody said the sky was crying as friends and relatives reminisced about this extraordinary man’s life.

He and his wife, Sandra, had founded a chain of supermarkets with a little store in downtown Cabot in 1971, when the city’s population was about a tenth of what it is today.

Warren Knight had hoped his business would grow enough so his three sons would one day own their own homes, his oldest son Keith recalled Sunday.

The family patriarch had passed away early Sunday morning, apparently of a heart attack. His middle son, Kent, who lives next door, had raced over to his parents’ home when his mother told him Warren was unconscious. Paramedics rushed to the home, but they could not revive him.

Warren and Sandra were married for 52 years. She’d dated him when she was just 15. They were from Memphis and were contemporaries of Elvis — Warren a couple of years older and Sandra about the same age.

The Knights married in 1952 and were determined to make a success of themselves despite their modest circumstances.
Memphis, often called the capital of the South, has always had a can-do spirit. Peter Guralnick, Elvis’ biographer says, “Memphis, after all, is a town that has never been prone to self-doubt; civic pride has always held that a city which gave birth to Piggly Wiggly, the Holiday Inn, Elvis Presley and the blues … was somehow touched by magic.”

Guralnick hails “the triumph of the independent spirit, something no Memphian could fail to understand or appreciate,” and he might as well have been thinking of the Knights, who were touched by magic.

They raised a family in Memphis, where Warren worked for the A&P supermarket chain. They eventually moved to Pine Bluff, where Warren worked for Weingarten’s, a Houston-based grocery chain with several stores in Arkansas.

Warren became Weingarten’s Arkansas manager but quit in 1971, taking his family to Cabot, where they bought Thompson’s Dollar Saver, turning it into a success almost immediately with $10,000 in sales the first week, a tremendous amount of money 34 years ago.

The four Knight’s stores gross as much as $1 million a week.

He was a smart grocer who understood good food and how it should be presented. “He wanted his customers to be satisfied,” his wife recalled Sunday.

When a customer complained about some steaks she had bought for a party, Warren took some steaks over to her home and cooked dinner for everybody, cutting up a watermelon for everybody while they waited for dinner.

He listened to his customers and valued their opinions. He and Sandra and their three sons helped build the business into a chain of four stores, with two in Cabot, one in Beebe and one in Jacksonville (which was once a Weingarten’s.)

Knight’s was our only printing customer when we bought our first press more than 15 years ago. He took a chance on us, but since then we’ve printed more than 20 million Knight’s circulars that go into homes from North Little Rock to Searcy.

Warren had health problems in the last few years, but everyone expected him to pull through because he was a strong personality. He’d had a lot of close scrapes, but Sandra and his doctors managed to keep him going.

Warren was a successful businessman, but he never forgot his roots.

He helped hundreds of people along the way. He helped people go into business for themselves, lending them money and his invaluable advice.

When you told him you’re buying a printing press, he stuck with you even as you struggled to get the business off the ground.
He helped people survive hard times, and he lifted them up.

People straightened out their lives and made something of themselves because of Warren.

The Talmud says if you save one life, it’s as if you have saved the whole world.

That was Warren Knight.