Earl Christian Hargrove, Jr., founder of Hargrove Inc., passed away quietly on April 6 surrounded by his family. He was 86 years old.
He was an innovator and an industry pioneer. He saw the potential for combining story-telling, spectacle and showmanship with business, branding and politics and worked tirelessly to make his vision a reality. He was never content with what he had done before and was always looking for a way to expand the scope, scale and enjoyment of the environments he created. In doing so, he helped to build the events industry into the economic force it is today.
He was born on Oct. 5, 1928, to Cecelia “Cele” Garrett and Earl Christian Hargrove, Sr. of Richmond, Va. In 1946, while still in high school, he began working with his father’s window trimming business — Hargrove Display Decorators, operating out of Richmond and then Cheverly, Md. Earl Jr. began helping out with his parents’ venture and eventually became a third owner of the company.
He graduated from Bladensburg High School in 1946 and, at 17 years old, joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He celebrated his 18 birthday during basic training at Parris Island Marine Corps Boot Camp and served for two years before being honorably discharged in 1948. He reenlisted in 1951 and served in the Marine Corps until 1954.
Earl Jr. returned to work with his father full time and in 1955 married Gloria (nee Love). He purchased a 125-acre farm in Southern Maryland the following year, where he built a large antebellum home and raised his family.
In 1949, Hargrove Display Decorators was contracted to build floats for President Harry Truman’s inaugural parade, an honor which continued through the Eisenhower celebrations in the fifties. The company’s involvement in inaugurals broadened with the Kennedy administration to include the formal Balls and other galas, expanding an uninterrupted history with Presidential inaugural events to this day.
Hargrove Displays Incorporated began decorating the National Christmas Tree and Pageant of Peace during the Eisenhower administration in 1955, trucking in a 60-foot tree and securing it in a custom stand. The National Park Service erected several stories of staging to help them adorn the massive tree. He would screw in and test each bulb and when bulbs burned out or did not cooperate, he would climb up and fix them, often in a Santa costume. The times and technology changed over the years, but the honor of decorating the national tree continues for Hargrove. The company celebrated its 60th anniversary with the event this past December.
Expanding and diversifying the company, Earl Jr. started Hargrove Convention Services to provide exhibit equipment rentals to local hotels. Shortly thereafter, Hargrove Convention Services joined Hargrove Displays Incorporated, which further grew to become the Convention and Trade Show Division of the company in 1963. Business and political connections led to more opportunities to design, decorate and produce special events, which would eventually supersede float building as the primary source of business for the company. This shift progressed through the ‘60s prompting the word “Displays” to be dropped from the company name, creating Hargrove Incorporated in 1967.
Hargrove Inc. continued to gain momentum as a premier special events company, opening an office in Atlanta, Georgia in the seventies and adding a custom exhibits division in 1977. In the ‘90s, the company began to transition its efforts toward designing, managing and producing large-scale events and environments for both the corporate world and the federal government.
In 2008, he retired, selling the company to his daughter, Carla Hargrove McGill, and her husband, Tim McGill, who serve as the president and CEO of the company respectively – though Mr. Hargrove, as he was affectionately known to his colleagues, friends and family in the company, was ever present at the facility. His creativity and energy were driving forces in many projects even through his retirement. He was adamant that the environments and exhibits tell the story and create an experience, and that is the objective with every project which the company undertakes.
Earl C. Hargrove, Jr. was always a colorful storyteller – able to captivate a room with tales of his life and his experiences in the industry. In September 2014, Earl Hargrove and author Kenneth T. Walsh published Hargrove’s memoir, published by Gasch Printers, titled “Hargrove, There’s Rainwater in the Teacups!”
Mr. Hargrove was a wonderful leader and businessman and a true icon in the events, tradeshows and exhibits industry. His vision, energy and enterprise helped build the framework for what the marketplace is today. Under the proud and watchful eye of his daughters Carla Hargrove-McGill and Cindy Hargrove, son-in-law Tim McGill, and the many people in the company who knew, loved and respected him, they are committed to building upon his legacy and seeing his vision to fruition … and beyond.
He is survived by his wife, Gloria Love Hargrove of Lothian, Md.; his son, Earl Christian Hargrove, III and granddaughter Cierra Cecilia, of Crownsville, Md.; his daughter Kathleen Hargrove Kelly, her husband Clyde Vernon, grandson Robert Hargrove and fiancée Ashley Faye Manger of Grasonville, Md. and preceded in death by grandson Clyde Vernon, IV; daughter Carla Hargrove McGill, her husband Timothy Patrick and granddaughter Kelsey Kathleen of Annapolis, Md.; daughter Cynthia Diane Hargrove, her husband Michael Eli Busada, granddaughter Allison Victoria Kluh and grandson John Joseph Kluh of Lothian, Md.; and son Carey Martin Hargrove, his wife Wendy Miller, and grandsons Carson Miller and Hudson Clyde, of Lothian, Md.
A celebration of his life is planned for Saturday, April 11, beginning 11 a.m. at St. James’ Church, 5757 Solomons Island Road, Lothian, MD 20711, followed by internment. Family and friends may visit on Friday, April 10, 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at his home, Holly Springs Farm, 571 West Bay Front Road, Lothian, MD 20711.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to HEROES, Inc. at www.Heroes-Inc.org or by giving to the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund.