Legendary HBCU Businessman & St. Paul’s College Graduate Passes Away At 91

By William A. Foster, IV

“The Negro girl who goes to college hardly wants to return to her mother if she is a washerwoman, but this girl should come back with sufficient knowledge of physics and chemistry and business administration to use her mother’s work as a nucleus for a modern steam laundry.” – Dr. Carter G. Woodson


The father of African American history month, Carter G. Woodson often talked of the fact that many African Americans go off and become educated only to leave behind the knowledge and experience their parents or grandparents had accumulated. Instead of merging the experiences of their forebears with their new education and building opportunities, much too often we are wondering in the “wilderness” with an education and no place to use it. This would not be the case for William H. Trower, an alum of Saint Paul’s Polytechnic Institute (later St. Paul’s College) in Lawrecenville, VA.

He would cut his teeth at St. Paul’s College studying tailoring. Mr. Trower would also spend time in the US Calvary and Infantry during World War II.  Accumulating skills at both stops that would serve him well upon taking over the family business. He served as President of Trower Cleaners, Inc, a dry-cleaning company founded by his father and mother. The company at its height expanded to four stores in the Pittsburgh area. It would eventually be sold in 1991 after serving the community for almost seven decades.

Mr. Trower’s legacy and story is beyond just business. His wife of 61 years, Clara Belle Willoughby, and their three sons survives him. A man who truly valued the love and comforts of family. He also is survived by a plethora of grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. One of his nieces, Sharon Epperson of CNBC, is a business star in her uncle’s footsteps and is one of the most prominent financial journalist in America.

There are many lessons we can learn from our HBCUpreneurs and HBCU professionals. Mr. Trower’s lesson shows us that we must not forsake the knowledge of our forbears for fancy titles or faux acceptance by others, but embrace their experiences, knowledge, and build upon it. In doing so we embrace the value of our past, create opportunity today, and leave infinite possibilities for tomorrow. William H. Trower passed away on January 31st, 2014, but he assured his lessons and legacy are living on through his family and the community he impacted.

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