Sheridan Garrison Found Dead in Pond

The body of Sheridan Garrison, founder of American Freightways Inc. of Harrison (now FedEx Freight East), was found at 9:55 a.m. Thursday in a four-acre pond in Boone County.

"He is deceased," said Boone County Sheriff Danny Hickman. "He will be sent to the [Arkansas] Crime Lab to rule out any foul play."

Garrison, 69, was last seen at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when his driver dropped him off at the lodge at Elixir Springs Cattle Co., a 1,000-acre hunting club five miles south of Lead Hill. Garrison was one of the owners of the hunting club.

On Wednesday morning, a farm hand found Garrison's empty fishing boat floating in the pond, Hickman said. One of the two seats on the boat was turned over, but the boat was upright in the water. Garrison had apparently paddled the boat into the middle of the pond.

Hickman said authorities were in the process of draining the lake when Garrison's body was found in the water.

"He was out by himself," Hickman said.

Garrison had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder that affects motor skills.

Garrison founded American Freightways in Harrison in 1982. In 2000, publicly traded American Freightways reported revenue of $1.4 billion and employed about 1,000 people in Harrison and some 16,200 across the country.

FedEx agreed to purchase AF for about $1.2 billion on Nov. 13, 2000.

In 2002, FedEx renamed the less-than-truckload carrier FedEx Freight East. The subsidiary continued to be based in Harrison.

Garrison retired as a director of FedEx in September.

"It's a very sad day," said Sally Davenport, a spokesperson for FedEx Corp.

A Life in Trucking

Garrison earned a business degree with honors from the University of Arkansas in 1955. After graduating, he grabbed the first rung of the corporate ladder as a junior executive trainee at Foley's Department Store in Houston, Texas.

Later that year, his father Ben, bought Harp Truck Line for $100,000. Sheridan joined his father and brother, Ben Jr., in the business, called Garrison Motor Freight. Garrison eventually bought the company from this brother, but sold it in 1979 to Smith's Transfer Corp., a Virginia-based less-than-truckload carrier.

Then, in 1982, he founded Arkansas Freightways, a less-than-truckload motor carrier that would eventually be called American Freightways. The company began showing a profit in 1983, and by 1986, revenues reached about $36 million.

FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith had been trying to buy American Freightways for two years when Sheridan Garrison finally sold the firm in 2000. FedEx had finally made Garrison an offer that he and his shareholders couldn't refuse: a 61 percent premium on the company's market price.

The sale more than doubled the estimated wealth of the Garrison family — including sons Tom, Will and Daniel, daughter Tonya Maxey and stepson Travis Ruff. And it propelled the Garrisons into the top 10 from No. 25 on Arkansas Business' list of Wealthiest Arkansans in July 2000.

Arkansas Business profiled Garrison in 1988, when Arkansas Freightways was the third largest in the state, behind Arkansas Best Freight and Jones Truck Lines. During the interview, Garrison described his philosophy for success.

"Bring together the right people, give them the tools with which to work, practice sound business principals and, most of all, satisfy the customer," he said. Garrison also shared thoughts on what his legacy might be.

"I want to be remembered for being a decent person, for doing what I said I would do, as someone who created an environment where people would choose to work and succeed," he said. "And for being a decent father, husband and brother — by people who love me in spite of my faults."

More on Sheridan Garrison

•?Arkansas Business Hall of Fame profile. Garrison was inducted in 2002.

•?Garrison Delivers: Jeff Hankins on Garrison's impeccable timing and the bittersweet sale of American Freightways Corp. to FedEx Corp.