Memories of a giant | Sheila Long O’Mara

In my office is a book. Not just any book, but an autographed book from one of our industry greats.

Inside the front cover of my copy of “The Furniture Wars: How America Lost a Fifty Billion Dollar Industry,” handwritten in black ink is an inscription that reads: To: Sheila. With admiration and affection. You are the greatest.

The signature? A simple SIR — yes, in all caps.

That, my friends, was my name for the one and only Michael K. Dugan. When we struck up our friendship, it felt odd to me to call him Mike, and he refused the more formal Mr. Dugan. I settled on Sir, and he was gracious enough to never correct me.

Our paths crossed only tangentially during his time at Henredon. My first stint with Furniture Today started in 1994 and ended in 2002. In those years, I never covered Henredon, and hence only had chance meetings with Sir at market or other industry events. By the time he retired from his position as president and CEO in 2004, I had moved on from Furniture Today to a variety of things.

In 2005, I was in the process of developing an industry magazine to cover home furnishings retail in a different sort of way. My partner in crime at the time, Amy Kyle (now Goodman) and I, made so many phone calls to so many industry insiders, and I was lucky enough to dial up the recently retired CEO of Henredon.

From there, a friendship was forged.

After retiring from Henredon in 2004, Sir refused to sit still. He joined Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina as its Alex Lee Professor of Business where he taught classes and held leadership forums for the community until 2012 when he officially retired from teaching.

I was lucky enough to secure an invitation to a panel on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne, during which we discussed the future of furniture in front of a filled college auditorium. While active at the university, Sir dug into writing his book that tells the story of the impact globalization had on our industry.

Despite his busy schedule — which included time at the university, book writing and his extensive network of community board memberships that included the Hickory Museum of Art, Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, N.C., and Charlotte-based WFAE Radio — Sir never failed to open up his calendar when I called or emailed. He was always generous with his time and insight and was an enthusiastic supporter.

High Point Market meetups with he and his wife Barbara were a highlight of my market weeks. Never very long, but just a quick opportunity to grab a bite or catch up over a cup of coffee. He typically had a full day or two planned while he was in town, during which he touched base with his industry peers.

I cheered loudly when the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame saw fit to induct him into its ranks in 2022. Quite the deserved honor for one of the best in the business.

We lost a giant last month when Dugan passed away. His legacy at Henredon, Pennsylvania House and Jamestown Sterling are well-documented in our pages and at the Hall of Fame, both of which focus on his savvy business prowess. I prefer to focus on his willingness to pick up the phone, settle in for a meeting and listen to a great story.

Sir will be missed greatly.

See also: Hall of Famer Michael K. Dugan dies at 83

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