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A Conversation with Community Champion: Drayton McLane Jr.

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Good. Better. Best.

Never Let It Rest

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This is Part One of Four


Cameron native son Drayton McLane Jr. has a long record of achievement in business, community endeavors and leadership.

A Texas business legend, his core values are what truly define him: integrity, love of family and his Christian faith. Those values epitomize McLane’s work ethic and pay tribute to his ancestors.

McLane, a Yoe High, Baylor University, and Michigan State graduate, is the grandson of entrepreneur and wholesale grocer Robert McLane, founder of the McLane Company in Cameron in 1894. Robert’s son, Drayton McLane Sr., later took over the company. Like his father, he was deeply religious and passed his Christian values to his three children, Jo Ann, Kate, and Drayton Jr., his youngest, was just nine when he started spending summers working as a janitor at his father’s food distribution warehouse in Cameron. 

As CEO, he presided over a major expansion and sale of his company to his friend, Sam Walton, owner of Walmart, in 1990. McLane continued to run the business, distributing products to convenience stores, mass merchants and chain restaurants as a key link in the nation’s supply chain. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., McLane has over 80 U.S. distribution centers and more than 25,000 employees.

McLane, a Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee, is a Texas business icon. He also is a Texas legend in community service and philanthropy, with McLane Children’s Hospital and Baylor’s McLane Stadium named for him. He is a trustee of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation and Baylor Scott & White Health, among others, and once chaired the Texas Economic Development Corporation, Baylor Scott & White Board of Trustees, Baylor University Board of Regents, Temple Chamber of Commerce, United Way Campaign of Temple and much more. He has received numerous awards, including honorary doctorates from Michigan State and Austin College in Sherman.

Drayton and his wife Elizabeth, have two children; Drayton III (Amy) and Denton (Amy); and five grandsons, Jeff, Drayton IV (Dray), Brooks, Jake, and Walker.

McLane shares reflections from his life’s journey in this Q&A.


Let’s talk about your early years in Cameron. Tell us about your family?

I had the finest parents in the world. They were very loving and caring. I had two sisters, Jo Ann was four years older than me, and Kate was two years older, so we all grew up together. They are deceased now, but they were all over me, loving on me but making sure I didn’t stray too far from the straight and narrow. My parents put character in us; they encouraged us and they gave us a chance to develop. They were very influential and involved in our lives. They didn’t smother us, but they encouraged us to excel and to develop as human beings. Our education was important, but most important was our Christian faith. 


Your grandparents were legendary community champions. What do you remember about them?

Well, my mother’s father was L.L. Blaylock and he was the sheriff for 22 years in Milam County, one of the county’s longest-tenured sheriffs. He passed away when I was about five or six, but I remember him as a very thoughtful person. He was also tall, and when you were around him, you wanted to respect him. 

As sheriff, he did a great deal to improve the lives of folks in Milam County. His wife outlived him, and she later lived with us. She was a very caring person and the only grandmother I ever knew.

My father’s mother died when he was 12, but his dad lived to be 82. I was a sophomore in high school when he passed, so I got to know him quite well. He was very direct. He was an immaculate dresser, always had on a suit and a tie, and he stood straight as an arrow. He was not a person that put his arm around you or hugged you, but I knew he loved my sisters and me. He was encouraging to us and a great role model. 

He was a very successful businessman. He went into the wholesale grocery business and started McLane Company in 1894. He grew up in Abbeville, S.C., the oldest of seven children. He said they were starving to death, and he came to Texas on his own to start a new life. Maybe his early hunger attracted him to the grocery business. 

He told us kids that he walked all the way from South Carolina to Texas. But my dad said, confidentially, “I think he rode the train.” He was just 18 and didn’t know anyone in Texas and no one encouraged him to come here. He settled in Milam County and worked for several years on a farm. In about 1890, he started a small retail store, and then in 1894, he became the first wholesale grocer in Cameron. 


What was your grandfather like as a businessman?

He was a people person who knew how to sell himself. He was very straightforward, and you could see his Christian character shining through everything he did. He was also a good organizer and instinctively knew how to present himself and his products to instill confidence. People admired him, and he believed in himself. 

After he launched the grocery in Cameron in 1894, he took a leap of faith in 1896 and opened a branch in Caldwell. One year later, he opened a third branch in Rosebud. That was ambitious because, in those days, there were no paved highways, no modern transportation system. But he maintained all three operations and kept the headquarters in Cameron. 


What was it like growing up in Cameron?

It was marvelous, but as a kid, I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t growing up in Dallas or Houston or New York City. I dreamed of all the things big cities had to offer. But Cameron was a wonderful place to be a kid. 

As a little boy in the summertime, I would ride my bicycle all over town. I might leave home at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning and see friends, eat lunch with them and then have dinner with another friend. I wouldn’t get home until 7 or 8 at night. My mother was never concerned. I had friends all over town and it was safe, it was fun, and I was a curious person. 

Faith was always huge in our lives. My family grew up in the Baptist church in Cameron, and Sunday was church day. All day. We went to Sunday school early and then to services at 11 o’clock. We were back at church every Sunday night. 

In those days, we didn’t have a big family TV room. My parents’ bedroom had two rocking chairs and I spent a lot of time in there, rocking and talking to my mother. 

She was a very powerful influence on my life and must have told me at least 5,000 times, “The most important thing in your life is going to be your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and your Christian faith. The second most important thing is going to be the love of your entire family.” Not just my sisters, but my cousins and my aunts and everybody else. 

The third thing, she said, is going to be tough but it will totally dictate your life. “It’s who you select to be your friends,” she said. “If you select people of character, people that have ambition and people that have good thoughts, they’ll lift you up.” 

Well, I knew my mother had spies all over town. Sometimes, rocking beside her, she’d say, “You are sure making some bad choices here.” When I graduated from Yoe High School, I was going to Baylor, 60 miles up the road, and I thought, I’m finally going to get away from this.

I was at Baylor for about six weeks when I came home for the first time. And the first thing she said, “Now I want you to sit in this chair and tell me who your new friends are.” She didn’t know any of them, so I had to describe who they were and what type of people they were. And years later, as I was doing business all over the United States, I’d see my mother and she had me describe what my current friends were like. Before she passed away at age 89, she was in Scott & White Hospital in terrible health. I saw her there regularly and held her hand and she would say again, “Now tell me who some of your new friends are.” So, I continued to learn something very valuable there.

For the rest of the series please pick up The Cameron Herald this week. This series will continue for the next three weeks.

The Cameron Herald

The Cameron Herald
P.O. Box 1230
Cameron, Texas 76520

Phone: 254-697-6671
Fax: 254-697-4902