One of the country's last great industrialists, the South Carolina textile magnate personified everything great and glorious about the sky-wide opportunities in America's free-market system -- but also its broad responsibilities to give back, and to ensure the future by never losing sight of the horizon.
Even after building Milliken & Co. into the world's largest privately owned textile and chemical manufacturer, Roger Milliken fought tirelessly to preserve and strengthen not just his company or industry, but the whole of American manufacturing. He often did it at his own or his company's expense.
Though many around him hung by a thread, he succeeded in leading his company through times of utter tumult with an unvarying work ethic, a darting eye for innovation, and an unwavering belief in God and country.
He shaped the business co-founded by his grandfather into a multibillion-dollar giant based in Spartanburg, S.C., where he moved in 1954. But beyond that, Milliken spread his wealth, knowledge and vision to uplift and improve the world.
Politically, he will be best remembered as a founding patron of the modern conservative movement. National Review reverently called him "one of the Right's 'funding fathers'" because of his influential support that aided the emergence of such conservative giants as William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater.
He also helped found the Heritage Foundation, and is credited with helping the Republican Party gain a foothold in the South, and South Carolina in particular.
Milliken managed to persuade U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond to champion legislation requiring country-of-origin labeling on textile and clothing products.
Even the liberal New Republic couldn't deny Milliken's formidable sway, writing in 2000: "He has a history of picking winners -- candidates, journals and think tanks that shaped American politics."
Economically, Milliken was a boon to South Carolina's Upstate, beyond his own textile business. In helping build the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, he helped attract new business to the region, including BMW and the North American base of operations for Michelin.
He proudly served as a trustee and benefactor to several educational institutions, helping oversee many campus improvements. In the 1960s, Milliken pushed for integration of Spartanburg's Wofford College, promising school officials he personally would make up any financial losses the college would suffer as a result.
He also was an advocate of protecting the environment years before the trend emerged to "go green." Milliken & Co. says it diverts 99.98 percent of its waste away from landfills to places "where it can be reused, recycled or converted to energy." In 1999 Milliken himself founded the Noble Tree Foundation, which encourages tree-planting and improved landscaping.
His attention to detail and insistence on quality, for which his company was recognized on several continents, is credited with keeping up with cheaper offshore competition and preserving thousands of American jobs. He conceived the "Crafted with Pride in the U.S.A." advertising campaign and co-founded the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition to help ensure a more level playing field with foreign competition.
Personally, he exuded vigor and competitiveness whether at work or play, and as a committed Christian he showed a kindness and compassion that seemed to flow organically to virtually all the people whose lives he touched. Few people you meet exude such a love of life.
Roger Milliken, who died last week at age 95, wanted just one word as his epitaph: "Builder."
He was one of the great ones.