NEW YORK — William R. Zimmer, founder and chairman of Reeds Jewelers Inc., died Monday in Wilmington, N.C.

Zimmer, who had been in failing health, was 84.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Zimmer joined the U.S. Army after the outbreak of World War II and was sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for specialized training. Later, he was shipped to the Pacific, where he saw active duty and won the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Zimmer and his wife, the former Roberta Goldfarb, relocated to Wilmington and opened the first Reeds store there in 1946. After building the company into one of the country’s largest jewelry chains, in 1986 Zimmer stepped down from day-to-day operations and appointed his son Alan M. Zimmer president and chief executive.

With quarterly sales of $21.1 million and 96 stores in 20 states as of May 31, Reeds is believed to be the 10th largest jewelry retailer in the U.S.

"Bill’s philosophy of life and business was an inspiration to the nearly 1,000 employees of Reeds," said chief financial officer James Rouse in a statement. "By his example, Bill constantly reminded all to treat everyone with respect and dignity and to be honorable in our dealings with others."

Besides his wife and son Alan, he is survived by sons Herbert and Jeffrey; a daughter, Arlene Schreiber, and 10 grandchildren.

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