Mr. Leon T. GarrSaturday, January 19, 2013, by Bobby Glanton Smith
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1992 the one unquestioned truth was Leon T. Garr is the “Godfather of Black Business” in the City of Angels. His business logo was ever present throughout South Los Angeles: Garr Construction, Garr Childcare, Garr Senior Homes Garr Elementary School – his footprint were indelible and far-reaching. What’s most remarkable, he was 78 years old at that time!
When I finally met him in person he walked nimbly into a run crowded with business men and women and immediately commanded everyone’s attention without ever saying a word. His accumulation of wealth and ongoing presence in the community spoke so loudly that he didn’t have to say anything in order to be the center of attention. His legendary status was well-deserved; from his arrival in Los Angeles in 1944 until this very day Mr. Leon T. Garr has been a builder, a leader, a visionary and absolutely the most prolific black businessman in Los Angeles of the 20th Century. More important, he shared his wealth and his business expertise with multiple generations of aspiring men and women.
Over the years Mr. Garr has allowed me into his circle of acolytes and encouraged me to practice the fundamentals of business and personal success that he’s honed over 75 years doing business in Louisiana, Texas and California. It is one thing to talk about making money, the world is filled with “how-to-gurus,” and it is another ballgame all together to practice what you preach. When I queried Mr. Garr about his secret to business success he simply replied: “If you want to make money you must make friends,”
I’m eternally thankful to Mr. Garr for opening his heart and mind and allowing me to spend countless hours at his footsteps and sharing with me his journey from a 450-acre farm that his father owned free and clear in Ruston, Louisiana to the four-bedroom/four-bath abode he presently resides in today in Baldwin Hills that he built on land that he paid for in full.
Two years ago Mr. Garr commissioned me to collaborate with him on his autobiography, “Let’s Go to Work! The Millionaire Chronicles of Leon T. Garr.” It was and still is one of the great experiences in my life. Mr. Garr is still blazing trails and leaving footprints. He employs nearly 100 people to operate a wide range of business enterprises that include Garr Body Shop, Garr Childcare, and the senior citizen complex. Highly acclaimed screenwriter and filmmaker Antwone Fisher will debut “This Life of Mine,” a film documentary about Mr. Garr’s remarkable life in March.
In this era of style over substance Mr. Garr is the real deal and a unquestioned example of what it is to be a real man for the ages. He will also be featured in Volume II of “Real Men Don’t Play!” and he is a focal point for the film documentary of the same name.
Did I mention that he bought a failing Savings & Loan (Founders Savings & Loan) at the age of 76 and converted it into Founders National Bank? It was the only commercial bank owned by a African American west of the Mississippi and he sold it to Magic Johnson, the late Jheryl Busby and Janet Jackson. The bank is now known as One United Bank.
If you want to read an inspiring and insightful story about a great American, get a copy of “Let’s Go to Work!”