Francis Xavier "Fran" Hudson, who used the GI Bill of Right to learn carpet installation and later co-founded and served as president of Carpet Land Inc., died Monday of heart failure at Carroll Hospital Center. He was 84.
Mr. Hudson's death comes exactly a week after that of Mark Helman, 80, who was the founder of Bill's Carpet Fair, another well-known Baltimore area carpet store that opened in 1959.
Mr. Hudson, the son of a Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive engineer and an Irish immigrant homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Linwood Avenue near Patterson Park.
After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1944, where he had been a star tackle on the school's football team, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Trained as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress gunner, Mr. Hudson was en route by ship to the Pacific when the war ended.
"He lost all of his personal belongings," said a son, Thomas L. Hudson of Freeland, "but he never missed that loss, and like so many, he was glad to come home."
Returning home to Baltimore after being discharged, Mr. Hudson took advantage of the GI Bill and learned carpet installation.
He was working as a carpet salesman for Yorkshire Carpet House, where he became friendly with Myles R. McComas Sr., who was the area mill representative for Alexander Smith and Masland.
"Those were big names then," said Mr. McComas, who is semiretired from Carpet Land. "Fran, Bob Bizeck and me formed a partnership, and we opened our first store in 1954 in the 2700 block of West Cold Spring Lane. Bob later dropped out about a year and a half later."
In 1957, the partners opened their second store on York Road in Towson, and two years later moved to their present location in the 900 block of York Road.
Ensuing years saw store openings on U.S. 40 West, Glen Burnie and Annapolis, and the establishment of a commercial division.
"We all sold, and we took care of our customers," Mr. McComas recalled. "We were friendly competitors with Bill's Carpet Fair. For 40 years, we had our own installers on the payroll. We did it all, from sales to installation, and at one time we even cleaned rugs we had sold."
Some of the company's commercial accounts, Mr. McComas said, included Lucas Brothers, Baltimore Stationery and Maryland Office Supply.
"If a customer came into one of those stores and wanted flooring, we got the job. We even had the Fair Lanes bowling chain and did work as far away as Detroit," he said.
"Fran Hudson was an honest, intelligent and hardworking man," Mr. McComas said.
"That's what made them different from department stores and other competitors — they did all of their own installations and didn't rely on jobbers," Thomas L. Hudson said.
"I used to see Fran all the time when I was a young lawyer. We represented the firm, and I was later on the board. He was just a prince of a guy," Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Thursday. His father, Temple Smith, had represented the business since its founding.
"There is one thing about Fran: There was never a greater gentleman who ever lived. He was the most decent and honest person I've ever met. He was good to all and liked by everyone," Mr. Smith recalled.
The county executive said he wasn't surprised by Mr. Hudson's business success "because he was an excellent salesman and always came across as being very genuine."
"He was also great on the follow-up and wanted to make sure that everything went right, from the sale to the installation," Mr. Smith said.
Even after he retired in 1990, Mr. Hudson continued handling several of the company's commercial accounts.
"Carpet Land and Bill's Carpet Fair had sold thousands and thousands of yards of carpeting to customers through the years," said Thomas L. Hudson.
Mr. Hudson, who was known as "FX" to family members, lived in Northeast Baltimore for 16 years before moving in 1975 to the Hampton neighborhood of Baltimore County.
Since 2005, he and his wife of 62 years, the former Evelyn Rosalie Smith, have lived at the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville.
"Dad was always somewhat chagrined that he didn't go to college. He loved history, and we visited all of the local Civil War battlefields," said Thomas L. Hudson. "He was well-read on the Civil War and could ably argue the various points, tactics and results of a battle."
Through the years, Mr. Hudson enjoyed traveling by steamship and had sailed on such legendary liners as the SS United States.
Mr. Hudson had been a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Baynesville, St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Mayfield and, before moving to Sykesville, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville.
Services are private.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Hudson is survived by three other sons, Timothy L. Hudson of Timonium, Patrick M. Hudson of Baltimore and Daniel F. Hudson of Olney; two daughters, Michele Hudson Snyder of Potomac and Francine Hudson Hanna of Melbourne, Australia; a brother, Joseph Hudson of Perry Hall; a sister, Margaret Myers of Ocean City; and 10 grandchildren.