Prominent sewing company executive dies at 96

Carrie Mae Spivey Shumate, a prominent Central Kentucky sewing company employee and executive for nearly 40 years, has died. She was 96.

During her career, Mrs. Shumate and her partners led a massive expansion of what became the predecessor of Kentucky Textiles. It saw them operating five plants across towns that include Paris and Carlisle.

"Some of the things she could be credited for aren't eyebrow raisers now, but back in the '40s and '50s they were ahead of her time," said Cliff Shumate, her grandson and president of Kentucky Textiles.

Mrs. Shumate's career began in the early 1940s, when World War II led to new opportunities for women in the work force. She started at the Hansley Mills sewing factory, which produced underwear from its home on High Street in Paris. Six years later, she and her husband, Clifford, struck a joint venture with others and created Giffin Manufacturing.

Giffin's Carlisle plant started with 12 employees. Mrs. Shumate became the manager at the production level, recalled longtime colleague Jane Ellen Booth of Carlisle.

"That was unheard of in those days," Booth said. "The managers were always men."

Giffin Manufacturing eventually became Blue Grass Industries, which expanded to several locations and wound up employing 2,500. Over the years, Mrs. Shumate was instrumental in adding benefits like paid holidays, vacation time, health insurance and more, said Cliff Shumate.

When Mrs. Shumate retired in 1980, she was the vice president of manufacturing and was overseeing key production people in plants in Carlisle, Cynthiana, Maysville, Mount Sterling and Paris, said Booth, who was given her first job by Mrs. Shumate in 1956.

Booth said Mrs. Shumate's workers called her "Mother Carrie" in social settings, a sign of respect for a supervisor who listened to their concerns.

"She could sling a whip if need be, but she always took the part of the operator," said Booth, who worked for Mrs. Shumate's family for 39 years. "She always listened to what the questions were and would go about with management to correct it."

After Mrs. Shumate and her husband retired, her son, Wayne, spun off one of the plants into Kentucky Textiles, which gained prominence as a supplier of Speedo swimsuits. The sewing plant was sold in 2005, but Cliff Shumate then went on to move Kentucky Textiles to the old Hansley Mills location — "we came full circle," he said — where his 150 workers package first-aid kits for Johnson & Johnson.

After retiring, Mrs. Shumate and her husband moved to Fort Myers, Fla., where they stayed until their health declined, prompting a return to Kentucky in 2000.

Her husband, Clifford, died in 2003. Mrs. Shumate was also preceded in death by her two children, Wayne Shumate and Rose Carol Myers. She is survived by four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was held March 26, four days after she died.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader