Stuart Pryor learned to stand on concrete principles and how to cement relationships long before he became plant manager of Ash Grove.
Pryor retired as General Manager of Ash Grove Cement Company in Midlothian last week and before he left he reflected on a life in heavy industry and a life growing up in Midlothian.
“I tell people I was born in Waxahachie Sanitarium in 1945,” said Pryor with the mischievous grin and easy smile that makes friends fast. “That’s what they called it at the time and that’s what’s written on my birth certificate.”
Pryor’s parents ran Keith‘s Caf/ in downtown Midlothian. His father routinely worked two jobs and his mother - a descendent of the Newtons of Larkin-Newton Cabin fame - handled the books.
“We knew everyone in Midlothian and everyone in Midlothian knew us,” said Pryor of his early years in 1950s Midlothian. “I had many of the same teachers my parents had. Daisy Edwards was my favorite. She taught me fifth grade.”
T.E. Baxter was Pryor’s math teacher in the seventh and eighth grade. J.R. Irvin was his high school principal and math teacher. Laura Jenkins was his first grade teacher. There was also a football coach and chemistry teacher by the name of Wilburn Roesler.
“I played sports - football, baseball and even basketball,” said Pryor. “My teachers always encouraged me and they taught me the importance of being prepared and doing your work well. My coaches taught me the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship.
“Those character traits and ethical standards that helped me in the corporate world, were learned from my parents, teachers and others in Midlothian,” said Pryor. “I have always been proud to say I was from Midlothian and I’m glad I grew up here.”
Pryor said his aunt Mattie Keith Warren impressed on him his faith and the importance of family.
“She used to carry her flannel board to the school and tell Bible stories,” Pryor said. “I can remember playing a pickup game of baseball at Kimmel Park and me and all the kids in the neighborhood taking a break and going into her house for a drink of water and a chance to listen to one of her flannel board stories.”
Tom Sewell also took a shine to Pryor in his early years.
“He was my dad’s best friend and he carried me everywhere,” said Pryor. “My dad was elected Mayor of Midlothian and I remember Tom Sewell and I going around town passing out “I Like Ike” buttons and urging people to vote for my dad.”
There was also an after school job as a soda jerk at Hilley’s Drug Store.
“Dub Willis was the pharmacist and he was the one who encouraged me to study my chemistry,” said Pryor.
Pryor said he could point to any one of those he mentioned and many more and tell how they influenced him.
He talked of Erdie Webb extending Pryor his first line of credit to buy a baseball glove. He talked of Tom Dees giving him his first bank loan and stressing the collateral would be “my word and my good name.” Pryor also told of hearing Midlothian Police Chief Perry Aday say those words he told many a Midlothian boy out on Friday night - “It’s late son, and it’s time for you to go home!”
“It was all of Midlothian that shaped me,” said Pryor. “Many of them have gone on to be with the Lord but many of them are still here and I owe them a deep debt of gratitude.”
With that solid foundation, Pryor went off to Texas A&M in Arlington to major in chemistry.
He would come back to work at the brand new Gifford Hill Cement Plant in Midlothian in 1966 at the urging of Ken Earhard.
“I went to work in the lab testing cement,” said Pryor. “While the technology and tools have changed, they are the same tests we run on cement today.”
Pryor’s career would carry him to cement plants in Houston and South Carolina, before he landed a job with North Texas Cement at their laboratory in Dallas.
In 1991 Pryor was named Technical Manager of the Midlothian plant and handled customer services, quality control and environmental regulations. He was named Plant Manager of North Texas Cement in 1995 and retained by Ash Grove when they bought the facility in 2003.
Pryor said he has always been proud to work for the cement plant on Giffco Road.
“The people of Midlothian are my family and friends and for people to maintain that we are harming them has always hurt me,” said Pryor. “I have always been the one responsible for making sure this plant meets state environmental standards.
“I have always been concerned about the environment - I live here - I am just not an activist,” said Pryor. “I was glad to see the state and everyone else come in here and do their testing. I was also glad to see this plant meet those levels. Ash Grove continues to work very hard to maintain and even improve on its environmental record.”
Pryor has also been active in the community. He has served on the Midlothian Economic and Community Development board for 10 years. He is a charter member of the Midlothian Education Foundation and currently active on the Midlothian Cemetery Board.
Pryor said he plans to continue serving the community.
“I’m retiring and I’ve had to remind some people I’m not dying,” said Pryor. “We’re going to stay around here and we are going to stay involved.”
Pryor smiled when he said he planned on carrying his high school sweetheart on a long date.
“Marlene has shared me with a lot of people for 40 years,” said Pryor. “We’re going to travel, visit family and play with the grandkids. Anything she wants to do, we’re going to do it.”
Pryor’s last day at work was August 31.