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Edward Gardner, co-founder of Soft Sheen Products and titan in business and philanthropy, dies at 98

Chicago business, philanthropy titan Edward Gardner dies at 98
Chicago business, philanthropy titan Edward Gardner dies at 98 00:30

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many are mourning the loss of Edward Gardner, a Chicago titan in business and philanthropy.

Gardner, the co-founder of the hair care company Soft Sheen Products Inc., died Monday surrounded by family. He was 98.

Edward Gardner The Salient Group Inc.

Gardiner and his wife, Bettiann, founded Soft Sheen in 1964. The company grew exponentially, and was the latest Black-owned beauty company in the U.S. by the late 1980s.

Gardner was also known for his dedication to the arts. He and his wife spearheaded the development of the New Regal Theater at 1641 E. 79th St. The theater drew acts from Gladys Knight to Tyler Perry in its years of operation.

Gardner also helped create the nonprofit Black On Black Love, which addressed violence.

In addition, Gardner used Soft Sheen's advertising and communication resources – leveraging an effort to raise $300,000 and staff to mount a campaign that registered more than 200,000 voters 40 years ago, a news release noted. That effort led to the election of Mayor Harold Washington as Chicago's first Black mayor.

At the age of 87 in 2012, Gardner organized more than 1,000 demonstrators on a march to protest a lack of Black workers at a South Side construction site.

Gardner was also a co-owner of the Chicago Bulls and a board member at Chicago United and The Chicago Urban League. He was born Feb. 15, 1925, to Frank and Eva Gardner in the West Chesterfield neighborhood.

Gardner graduated from Fenger High School and Chicago Teachers College – now Chicago State University – and received master's degree from the University of Chicago. He was also a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II.

His son Gary remarked,

"He was my father, my hero, my teacher," Gardner's son, Gary, said in a news release. "He taught me how to engage people with humanity and humility."

Gardner's daughter, Terri, added: "My father saw the untapped potential of his community. He believed that with access to opportunity, hard work, a quality education and safe neighborhoods, there is nothing we can't achieve."

A private family service is planned.

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