June 19, 1935 – February 10, 2021
Flooring industry entrepreneur Shelby C. Peeples, Jr., 85, who founded Emerald Carpet in 1976, passed away peacefully at his residence in Dalton, Georgia.
Growing up in the rural community of Dawnville, Shelby learned the value of hard work, resilience and taking care of your neighbor. He met the love of his life, Willena Davis, in the first grade, where they became quick friends. They would become high school sweethearts, and soon marry after high school graduation. He was one of 18 graduates of the Dawnville High School class of 1953 and later would marvel at how he “picked the perfect partner” at such a young age.
Shelby first hinted at his future success in sales and business when he sold his first cow at age 11. Shelby learned how to make a profit dabbling in trade at a young age. Upon graduation from high school, Shelby went to work for L.A. Lee Printing Company, running their printing press. To help support his growing family, he used his ingenuity to make extra money on the side. He would buy a used car, clean it and resell it for extra cash. On Fridays after work, he would go to the farmer’s market in Atlanta to buy fruits and vegetables and bring them back to sell on Saturday. Once he purchased a pickup truck full of hand tools—wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers—and each day, he would come home from work at lunch, fill a brown paper bag with tools, and return to work, selling them by the handful to co-workers. As is the case with many successful people, Shelby worked long hours while Willena focused on their children and family.
At age 29, Shelby had an unsuccessful run for tax commissioner. Determined to expand his horizons, he began selling life insurance with Franklin Life during the evenings, while continuing to hold his day job at L. A. Lee. He soon found success selling insurance, and later began selling full time, rising quickly to become the top U.S. salesman with Franklin Life. He eventually left the insurance business to go into the carpet finishing business, and soon began investing and buying real estate. Over time, his business portfolio would expand to include carpet backing, yarn extrusion, LVT manufacturing, hospitality carpet, synthetic turf, banking and real estate. He arose early each day and kept a full work and meeting schedule well into the evening hours. Also active in politics, he hosted many political fundraisers and supported numerous candidates for local, state and national office.
Shelby Peeples’ employees were like family to him. While he was hard-nosed and pushed employees toward success, he had a huge heart for his employees and their families. He believed in doing business face to face across the lunch table with friends and competitors alike. He read voraciously and was a conscious note taker, always learning and expanding his knowledge. Even at home, you would find him with his newspapers and steno pad, known as the “Shelby pad,” keeping busy with personal and business phone calls.
Nothing pleased Shelby more than entertaining family and friends. He and Willena enjoyed welcoming friends to their home and he never missed an opportunity to take someone to dinner. At restaurants, he often paid for others dining around him. Shelby always remembered to phone friends on their birthday, and upon learning of a person or cause in need, he was an eager and supportive friend.
Aaron Peterson (pictured left), president, McNabb Flooring, wrote in Shelby’s guestbook, “I feel absolutely honored to have had more than one occasion to spend a little bit of time with Shelby and his family. One of the very first things I noticed about Shelby, was when he is talking to you, he gives you all of him. What I mean by that is, he is totally focused on you without distraction. It’s one of the best feelings ever, and I have never encountered it again from anyone. He always made time to break bread with you, even though you knew he was extremely busy. Shelby always had a few of his special peppers in his pocket if you wanted to turn up the heat. His hospitality and his love for his family, is really something to remember and to strive for in your own life.”
Julie Kagy (pictured right), ESCA director of operations, wrote, “Shelby was a kind, generous and loving person, who instantly made you feel at home. My family and I always looked forward to seeing him and Willena. They immediately adopted all those around them and made everyone feel like family. He made the world a brighter place and left a mark on all those lives that touched his. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with the Peebles and Emerald family during this difficult time.”
Sharon Barton wrote, “I have worked for this incredible man for 22 years. He became like a father figure to me. I always listened to him intently because he was such a wealth of knowledge. I have learned so much from him. The things that I most remember are: 1. Always do the right thing! Especially when no one is watching. 2. Your employees are your most important asset and treat them like family. 3. Live like you are a two-year-old colt in a 40-acre field. I am so very blessed to have known him and had him in my life. I will be forever grateful that he was my friend.”
Fern Expo’s Bludworth family wrote, “We love the Peeples family and our prayers are with you all as Shelby is mourned. What a legacy he leaves. We are grateful for the time we were able to spend with him and his influence on us. May God watch over you all in the coming days as you mourn the passing of an exception man and friend.”
ESCA notified their members that “ESCA lost a long-time member of its tradeshow family this week, Shelby Peeples. Shelby was a legend in our industry, a leader, and a role model to so many. Through Emerald Carpet, his partnership with ESCA and our membership was instrumental in our Summer Educational Conferences and Winter Awards Celebrations’ success. At ESCA, we always felt a sense of family, friendship, and kindness with every interaction with Shelby, the Peeples family, and Emerald Carpet. We are all saddened by the loss of this wonderful man.”
Ever the fierce competitor in business, Shelby Peeples’ pride and joy were his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “Papaw,” as he was known to his grandchildren, was known for his kind and generous heart, and listening ear. He always prioritized celebrating family occasions, whether large or small. Nothing pleased him more than spending time with family, and he enjoyed lake weekends, birthdays and trips to the beach.
Shelby and Willena’s inherent desire to help others led to an even greater vision for their family legacy. Supporters of Dalton State College since the 1990s, Shelby and Willena made a gift to help build a 58,000-sq.ft. science building on campus. Noted for its superior lab facilities, the building was dedicated in their name in 2014. In 2015, Shelby turned his attention to healthcare. He and Willena having survived cancer, embraced a vision for state-of-the-art cancer care for patients and their families. Partnering with the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation, he and Willena provided a legacy gift to develop what would become Peeples Cancer Institute at Hamilton Medical Center. The facility opened to the public in January 2020, with a commitment to offering each patient exceptional care in a compassionate, supportive environment. Shelby’s belief in young people and the power of their education led to a recent investment in the Junior Achievement Discovery Center of Greater Dalton. As one of the founders of the First Bank of Dalton, he was influential in the decision to have a First Bank of Dalton storefront in the center which opens in March. In recognition of their achievements in business, industry and philanthropy, Shelby and Willena Peeples were inducted as laureates into the Junior Achievement of Northwest Georgia Business Hall of Fame in 2015 and were named recipients of the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation’s Humanitarian Award in 2018.
Driven by grit, vision and determination, Shelby Peeples will be remembered for his business acumen and humanitarian efforts in northwest Georgia, but his true personal joy was helping the common man. He lived to help others, readily giving a hand up, without fanfare or praise. Ultimately, he considered his true net worth his family.
He is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Willena Davis Peeples; son, Alan Peeples (Roger Cheek), of Dalton, GA, daughter Jane Peeples Stanfield (Terry), of Dalton, GA, son Tom Peeples (Vickie), of Ringgold, GA, and son Bryan Peeples (Amy), also of Ringgold, GA; nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren; and a loving extended family including brother-in-law Lloyd Davis, and sister-in-law, Janice Davis Skates, and family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Shelby Sr. and Lilly Mae Peeples, sister Marjorie Peeples, nephew, Stanley Wynn, and beloved dog, Rudy.
The family will hold a private burial service with plans for a celebration of life in summer 2021. The family would like to express their love and appreciation to special caregivers, Jonah Berry, Justin Dempsey and Jose Martir. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to Shelby Peeples charities of choice:
Dalton State College Foundation, Dalton-state.edu/giving
Humane Society of NW GA, P.O. Box 3946, Dalton, GA 30719
Whitfield Healthcare Foundation, P.O. Box 1168, Dalton, GA 30722-1168
In Memory of Shelby Peeples, designated for Peeples Cancer Institute
Online gifts may be made at HamiltonHealth.com/donate
For those who would like to share a memory or condolences, visit https://obituaries.daltoncitizen.com/obituary/shelby-peeples-1081612167/guestbook.
An excerpt of this story originally appeared in the Mar./Apr. 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 22. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_mar-apr_2021