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Joseph M. Haggar Jr., who headed Haggar Corp. for two decades and was instrumental in a number of innovations in the men’s casual slacks market, died June 1 of heart disease at his home in Dallas. He was 87.
The son of company founder Joseph Haggar, known as “J.M.,” and younger brother of longtime company head Edmond Haggar, Haggar served as president and chief executive officer of the company from 1971 until 1991 and retired as chairman in 1995. His son Joseph 3rd, known universally as “Joe Three,” succeeded him as ceo, a post he held until 2005 when the business, publicly held beginning in 1992, was sold to an investment consortium for about $212 million. It is now known as Haggar Clothing Co.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II and obtaining an engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame, Haggar headed the firm’s production and operations, often racing to get new ideas to market before the firm’s archrival Texas competitor, Farah Manufacturing Co. of El Paso. The company was a primary mover in the shift to permanent press in the Fifties and pioneered developments in convenience and comfort, including finished bottoms and its Expandomatic waistband. Like many companies in the bottoms business, it enjoyed the benefits of the double-knit polyester leisure suit boom of the Seventies but, unlike quite a few, managed to survive the category’s “bust” cycle, rebounding through an emphasis on slacks that were dressier and, through its Gallery subbrand, more fashionable.
“Like all the Haggars, Joe was such a gentleman and so positive,” Alan Burks, former chief marketing officer of Haggar and now chairman and ceo of Brands Make Money LLC, a Dallas-based marketing firm, told WWD. “His reaction to just about everything was, ‘We can get this done.’ He could work in the upper echelons of government and industry and relate just as well to a guy on the loading dock. The Haggars are the biggest bunch of regular-guy multimillionaires you’ll ever meet. There was just no pretense whatsoever.”
A two-term Dallas city councilman with a trim physique and a love of golf and hunting, Haggar worked tirelessly and decisively for the bond project that led to the construction of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. According to his son, he was actively involved last spring in helping Mike Rawlings in his successful bid to become mayor of Dallas, although his health deteriorated toward the end of last year. Rawlings previously served as ceo of Pizza Hut and of Haggar’s longtime advertising agency, TracyLocke.
Although Edmond was the “outside” brother, specializing in marketing and merchandising, the brothers’ roles blurred somewhat following their father’s death in 1987. “They knew each other’s part of the business and always helped each other out,” Joseph 3rd said. “The goal was to help everybody succeed.”
Late in his life, Joseph Jr. earned an odd historical footnote when tapes were released of a phone conversation he had with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Haggar repeatedly answered “yes, sir” as LBJ requested pants from Haggar and gave specific and occasionally intimate details about his anatomy and how he needed to be fitted, at one point punctuating his detailed request with a loud belch. Any offense Haggar might have taken was in all likelihood mitigated by Johnson’s proclamation that Haggar pants he’d worn previously were “the best I’ve had anywhere in the United States.”
“Joe Haggar Jr. set a high standard for integrity and vision that we still recognize as the benchmark for how the company operates today,” said Michael Stitt, ceo of Haggar. “His philosophy and approach centered around expectation of top performance and results. Joe himself gave what he expected from his entire organization. He will be greatly missed but his legacy will continue at Haggar.”
In addition to his son, Haggar is survived by his wife, the former Isabell Salloum; daughters Lydia Novakov and Marian Bryan; a sister, Rosemary Vaughan, and eight grandchildren.
Haggar’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Christ the King Catholic Church, 8017 Preston Rd., in Dallas.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorials be made to Catholic Schools Scholarship-The Catholic Foundation, in Dallas; St. Joseph’s Residence in Dallas; the regional office of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Irving, Tex., or a charity of one’s choice.