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General Produce founder Hiram Folds dies

Hiram Folds, founder of Atlanta-based produce distributor General Produce Inc., died Jan. 5 of undisclosed causes. He was 84.

Mr. Folds came up in hard times in Depression-era Milstead, GA. He lost his father at an early age and went to work part time on the Atlanta State Farmers Market, loading trucks and cutting bananas for the Georgia-Tennessee Produce Co. at 50 cents an hour.

After graduating Conyers High School in 1946, Mr. Folds went on to business college, but his formal education was short-lived. FoldsHiram Folds signs a copy of a book written about the company he built, General Produce, in his office on the Atlanta State Farmers Market in 2010. (Photo by Chip Carter)One afternoon he saw his mother struggling with several large piles of laundry and realized she had begun taking in washing to help put him through school. He immediately quit and went to work full-time on the market.

He soon joined the H.C. Davis Banana Co. and by 1958 had moved on to Turner Brothers Produce, another banana company. He and a partner bought out the brothers and relaunched the company as Nu-Banana.

A banana blight in the early 1960s wiped out that business and by 1964 Mr. Folds had signed on with J.A. Morgan as a salesman.

"When I came aboard, this company sold nothing but potatoes, citrus and onions," Mr. Folds said in a 2010 interview with The Produce News. "And it was bankrupt. I was offered $75 a week and took it because I needed a job. I was paid to work two days a week, Wednesdays and Sundays, but I worked seven."

Roughly a decade later, Mr. Folds bought General Produce and turned it into one of the largest produce distributors in the Southeast, with annual revenues of more than $100 million.

"I always told everybody that this is what I wanted to do," Mr. Folds said in 2010. "One time in grade school, when everybody had to get up and tell what they wanted to be when they grew up, I stood up and said, '"I want to be a produce man.'"

In November, the company was named Georgia Family Business of the Year by the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State Cole College of Business and Georgia Trend Magazine.

Mr. Folds is survived by his wife, the former Susie Bush; sons Calvin and Stephen; daughter Jeannie Springfield; and several grandchildren, who work in the family business.