James A. Head, Sr., a Birmingham business and civic leader who helped lead fundraising for Samford University’s Lakeshore Drive campus, died Tuesday, Dec. 21, at the age of 106. Head had been a member of the Samford board of trustees since 1955, having been elected a Life Trustee in 1979.
Head was well-known in Alabama business circles by the 1950s for his success in the office supply and library furniture business when Samford board chairman Frank Samford asked him to lead the fund drive for the University’s new campus. He agreed to do so, and ultimately laid the cornerstone for the first building on the campus April 29, 1955.
Head was president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce at the time of Frank Samford's request, one of many civic leadership roles he held.
In the 1960s, when Birmingham was wracked by civil rights strife, Head joined with members of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice) to travel the state speaking against segregation. The effort “broke the back of the KKK mentality that had permeated the city and state since the turn of the century,” Head said several years ago. “I believe the good Lord directed me to do that job,” he added.
Head’s efforts to end segregation were cited when he was elected to the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2002. “His belief in the dignity and worth of all individuals has been the cornerstone of his distinguished life,” said his nomination.
Samford President Andrew Westmoreland described Head as “an Alabama treasure” because of his long years of service to the city and state.
Head was born in Tiffin, Ohio, in 1904, and his family moved to Birmingham in 1914. He entered the office supply and library furniture business in 1923 and by 1926, owned his own company. As his business became established, he supplied a major portion of libraries around Alabama with furniture.
Head was active in the 1945 Alabama Victory Bond Campaign near the close of World War II. He was a major force in the establishment of Holy Family Hospital in Ensley. He also served as chairman of United Way. He was the Birmingham Young Men’s Business Club Man of the Year in 1950, and received the Spain-Hickman Distinguished Service Award in 2001.
Samford awarded Head an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 2002.
Head’s daughter, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren are Samford alumni.
A private burial service is planned, with a memorial service to be scheduled later in January.
The family has suggested memorial gifts to Samford.