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Marvin Girouard, pioneer leader of Pier 1, dies at 80

🕐 9 min read

Marvin J. Girouard, 80, who worked at Pier 1 for 32 years and was CEO from 1998 to 2007 and led the company as it grew to a $2.8 billion operation with about 1,500 stores, died March 28.

“Marvin suddenly went into septic shock at 3:30 a.m. [Saturday] morning from an apparent ruptured appendix,” said Len Roberts, former head of RadioShack and a 25-year friend, in a Facebook post.

COVID-19 was ruled out by a later test, meaning that the family could gather together, Roberts said.

A private service is planned because of restrictions on the size of gatherings in effect.

“He went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance on route to the hospital. The best doctors at THR were mobilized to stabilize and save him. His cardiac and kidney functions were compromised. At around 7 p.m. on Saturday, he passed away,” Roberts said.

Mr. Girouard joined Pier 1 in 1975, and for 10 years held merchandising positions that led him to more than 60 countries. In 1985, he became senior vice president of merchandising.

Three years later, he was elected president and chief operating officer. He became CEO in 1998 and chairman of the board in 1999. He retired in 2007.

Mr. Girouard joined the Navy after graduation from Texas A&M University, “when it was all military, no females,” he said in a previous interview.

He spent five years in the service, ultimately in charge of a UDT beach jumper unit in Vietnam. Translated into English, that’s an underwater demolition team that was also trained to parachute into operations. It was the precursor of the Navy SEALS.

He didn’t continue diving after he left the service, but he did stay in the Navy Reserve and ultimately retired as a commander, equivalent to lieutenant colonel in the Air Force or Army.

“I’d go for two weeks of Navy training and we’d do some parachute jumping to maintain our proficiency for probably eight or 10 years,” he said.

But the retirement benefits were the lure.

“The funny thing is, I never thought I’d have a retirement from a decent company, because all these little import companies that I had worked for had no retirement,” Mr. Girouard said. That was also true at Pier 1 when he joined it, and ultimately, he set up ways for employees to build retirement funds with the company.

“I loved the military,” he said. “I would have stayed probably, except that I saw where we were going with Vietnam, and it wasn’t worth it. It was a disaster. And I think today I’d have a hard time with it.”

Jack Raskopf, a retired professor of the public relations and advertising department at TCU – and a fellow Navy vet although from World War II – gave Mr. Girouard his first job after he was release from active duty after Vietnam. They remained close friends.

“While he had no experience, he wanted to start his career in advertising and public relations. His first stop was at Rockwell International in Dallas where I was director of advertising and public relations,” Raskopf said.

Raskopf had an open position and interviewed him.

“Within 20 to 30 minutes I realized our search was over. Marv became part of our team as well as a lifelong friend. My daughter even added his wife’s name to hers during her Holy Confirmation services,” Raskopf said.

“Marv never let his position go to his head. He remained good friends with those who he started with in business as well as with the higher ups. Marv’s passing is a major loss to his family, his many friends, his business associates and our community at large,” Raskopf said.

Former Mayor Kenneth Barr said Mr. Girouard was a “super nice guy.”

“He loved his family, but he also loved Fort Worth and was always willing to help make it better. Marvin had a strong commitment to UNICEF and for it he raised millions to help children around the world. He always had a friendly greeting with a smile on his face. We will miss him,” Barr said.

Neal Shields, a neighbor to Mr. Girouard, called him a great friend and a great neighbor in a Facebook post.

“I got a Ph.D. level education from some great conversations with him over garbage cans when we would take out the garage at the same time. It was not only what he said but you could learn a lot if you paid attention to how he thought,” Shields said.

Shields referred to Mr. Girouard’s service in Vietnam.

“He told me they stayed alive by always attacking the enemy from the direction that was so difficult that the enemy thought that no rational person would come from that direction. I will miss his friendship, wisdom, knowledge and perspective,” Shields said.

Roberts said he and his wife, Laurie, had dinner two weeks ago with Mr. Girouard and his wife, Felice.

“Marvin Girouard and I loved playing golf with Charlie Pride. We even played his music on our golf cart,” Roberts said.

The two men retired at close to the same time from their respective companies.

“We loved leading our companies and loved contributing to our community. I will miss Marvin beyond words can express. We will be here for Felice. My heart goes out to Felice and their children and grandchildren. Rest in Peace my BFF,” Roberts said in the Facebook post.

Mr. Girouard, like many CEOs of his era in Fort Worth, was deeply committed to presence and involvement in the community and to philanthropy.

“I think you’ve got to give back. Pier 1 was an international company, so we picked UNICEF for our international cause. My mother and my sister died of breast cancer, so we were a big Komen Foundation supporter. And locally the United Way helps you consolidate your giving,” Mr. Girouard said in an interview for Fort Worth Business CEO magazine.

A major UNICEF fundraiser is the sale of Christmas cards, and Pier 1 made them available in its stores.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Marvin Girouard,” said Gabriella Morris, Interim Chief Development Officer & SVP of Strategic Partnerships at UNICEF USA.

“Pier 1 Imports and UNICEF worked together for 34 years and many had come to know the partnership through the annual youth greeting card contest. Under Marvin’s leadership, Pier 1 Imports helped to better the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children, raising over $45 million dollars for UNICEF. We are forever grateful for his work on the national board and our sincerest condolences go out to Marvin’s family and loved ones,” Morris said.

Mr. Girouard was named a Leadership Fellow along with Roberts in 2004. The Fellows award recognizes people who are role models of community trusteeship.

Community leader Rosa Navejar said in a comment on Facebook she loved the relationship between Roberts and Mr. Girouard.

“One of my memorable moments was you both talked and bantered at an annual Leadership Fort Worth event. This was a great evening for all that attended. Marvin and I shared the same birthday. He would call me his birthday buddy,’ ” she said.

Music was a big part of his life.

“I love Meryl Haggard and Willie Nelson, and I still go to concerts. I went to high school with Janis Joplin. I knew Janis pretty well when we were young. I grew up playing the guitar and still play,” he said in the 2015 interview.

That was in Port Arthur, where he grew up.

He was a consistent attendee at the Country Music Awards, and there’s a story there.

“The guy who owned the company that put music in stores came to me first, a company called AEI. We had radios in the stores and the kids would put acid rock on them and the customers would write me letters saying, ‘I hate the music. I ain’t going back there anymore.’

“So, this guy had an idea – he had worked for Muzak in Seattle – and created a tape that went out five times a year, a holiday tape, and a summer tape, and different kinds of tapes. I was his first customer,” Mr. Girouard said.

He spoke to the company’s sales group and the owner asked what he could do in return.

“I said. ‘I’ve never been to a Country Music Awards and I live in Fort Worth, and I’d love to go to the CMA Awards every year for the rest of my life.’ He said, ‘You got it.’ So he sent me two to four tickets every year until about two years ago (2013) when he sold the company. He called me and I said, ‘Hey, you’ve paid your debt. We’re done,’ ” Mr. Girouard said.

On important things he learned in his career:

– “I think the biggest thing that I learned is that people who really succeed in business and become successful as CEOs – and survive, because there’s the survival after you get there – you’ve got to be able to communicate. You find a guy who’s not a communicator, rarely do they succeed.”

– “The bottom kind of line is you need to really love what you do. My Dad was a 10th grade high-school dropout who became a self-taught master electrician. He loved doing electrical work. He loved wiring homes. He loved going into refineries and solving problems on petrochemical plants. …

– “I loved every day with Pier 1, particularly in the merchandising end. I watched a lot of buyers who were great buyers, and if you promoted them to be managers of buyers, they failed because they didn’t have the management skills and the ability.”

– “There were a lot of guys who brought all these new business school and 10 Habits. It would just throw the corporation into a quandary. It was like, ‘We don’t need that.’ This is a gut business. You’ve got to pick up an item and say, ‘I think we can sell 10,000 of these.’ ”

“I hired buyers a lot of times when I ran the merchandising department by taking them on a trip to Taiwan or China or India with me and let them walk into a showroom and pick 10 items and put them on a table. If there were seven of them that I would have picked, I’d hire them. If there was only one, I’d say, ‘It was a great trip, I hope you had a good time. I’ll see you.’ ”

– “You’ve got to keep learning. That’s why I read everything. You’ve got to keep your mind fresh. You’ve got to think.”

Survivors include his wife, Felice Girouard; three children, Jamie Girouard Lewis (Husband- Darren Lewis); Mark Girouard; and Jena Girouard Wildrick (Husband- Jesse Wildrick); three grandchildren, Cade Lewis, Clara Lewis and Witt Wildrick; and one sibling, Judy Gregory.

– Includes material from FWBP archives

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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