Sartain Lanier was an accomplished businessman, an active community leader, and a generous but unassuming philanthropist. Along with his brothers, Mr. Lanier founded Oxford Industries, the Atlanta-based apparel manufacturer, as well as Lanier Business Products. Mr. Lanier also made significant contributions to many organizations with which he had been associated during his lifetime and in his community, particularly in the area of education.
The son of Nettie Sartain and John Hicks Lanier, Sartain (or Sot, as he was known by his close friends) was born in 1909 in Winchester, Tennessee. His family—which included older brother Hicks, older sister Eleanor, and younger brother Thomas—soon moved to Nashville so that he and his siblings could attend better schools. Sartain Lanier graduated from Hume Fogg High School in downtown Nashville and entered Vanderbilt University, along with his sister and one of his brothers, graduating in 1931 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Sartain Lanier’s years at Vanderbilt kindled an interest in education generally, and a love for Vanderbilt specifically, that continued to be important throughout his life.
Mr. Lanier co-founded two companies that became national industry leaders in their respective fields. Fascinated by the potential of the newly invented dictation equipment manufactured by Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Mr. Lanier and his brothers founded The Lanier Company in 1934 to be a distributor of the “Ediphone.” Under their guidance, this company grew into Lanier Business Products, a major distributor of office and business equipment and a leader in innovation in the office machine industry. In 1983, Harris Corporation acquired the company, and in 2000, Lanier Worldwide (as it is now known) was purchased by Ricoh Corporation, where it remains as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
In 1942, the three brothers relocated to Atlanta and purchased Oxford Manufacturing Company, a small manufacturer of military uniforms. The company grew into a major manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer of men’s and women’s apparel. The Laniers took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange in the early 1960s. Sartain Lanier served as chairman and chief executive officer of Oxford until his retirement in 1981. Oxford has recently undergone a transformation from its historical domestic manufacturing roots, becoming an international apparel design, sourcing and marketing company featuring a diverse portfolio of owned lifestyle brands, consisting of Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer and Ben Sherman, as well as owned and licensed brands of tailored clothing and golf apparel. In 2014, Oxford had sales in excess of $997 million, and it is among the largest public companies headquartered in Georgia.
In addition to his leadership role in the companies he helped to create, Mr. Lanier served as a director of Standard Brands (which later merged with Nabisco), Trust Company of Georgia (now SunTrust), Genuine Parts Company, and Southern Airways.
In 1934, Sartain Lanier married Claudia Gwynn Whitson of McMinnville, Tennessee. The couple had three children, Gwynn, Vance, and Hicks. Claudia Lanier was known as a gracious lady and a devoted wife and mother. She died of cancer in 1972 at the age of 58. In 1976, Lanier married Elizabeth Moorman Tuller, a native of Oklahoma City who had spent most of her adult life in Atlanta. They had been married 18 years at the time of his death.
Mr. Lanier had a keen appreciation for the institutions and the community that had allowed him to be so successful. He was an active participant in many Atlanta civic and charitable endeavors, typically taking a low profile, behind-the-scenes approach. He served for over 20 years as a trustee of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. He was also a trustee of the Georgia Cooperative Services for the Blind, and was actively involved in the United Negro College Fund.
In the 1950s, Mr. Lanier and his brothers founded The Lanier Brothers Foundation, and in 1963 he established a foundation for his personal giving. Through the years these foundations made significant grants to educational and human service efforts in Atlanta and the South.
Foremost amongst Sartain Lanier’s interests and the recipients of his generosity was Vanderbilt University where he served on the Board of Trust for over 30 years. In 1992, Mr. Lanier established the Lanier Scholarships, three four-year endowed scholarships given each year to outstanding Atlanta high school seniors who will attend Vanderbilt. A resolution adopted by the Vanderbilt Board of Trust upon his death stated that the “Lanier Scholarships are lasting testimony to Sot’s belief in the value of a college education and to his eagerness to help deserving young people make the most of their talents and abilities.”
Sartain Lanier was a talented businessman, a decisive leader, a wise advisor, and a loyal and trusted friend to many. He had a great sense of humor, and consistent with his Southern roots, loved to tell a good story. His life was an impressive example of the opportunities available to those with ambition and a willingness to work hard, and his integrity and generosity have been a model for those with whom he was associated in both his professional and his personal life.
Mr. Lanier died in 1994 at the age of 85 and left most of his estate to the Foundation.
Claudia and Sartain Lanier
From left to right: Hicks, Sartain, and Thomas Lanier