GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gretchen Carhartt Valade, the heiress and chairman emeritus of the popular Michigan workwear company, has died. She was 97 years old.
A statement released by Carhartt Inc. said Valade died peacefully at her home on Dec. 30, surrounded by her family.
“Metro Detroit and the global jazz community lost one of its greatest champions this week,” the company release said.
Valade was a lifelong resident of Grosse Pointe Farms but anchored her life in Detroit. She served on the Carhartt board since 1958 and was named chairman of the board in 1998 after her husband, company president Robert Valade, passed away.
A noted philanthropist, Valade was known in Detroit’s art community as the “Angel of Jazz.” She made several donations to Wayne State University and helped fund the Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center and founded Mack Avenue Records in 1999, which has gone on to earn more than 50 Grammy nominations and 11 wins.
In 2006, she stepped in to ensure the Detroit Jazz Festival would continue and remain free to attend after the event’s primary sponsor dropped out. And in 2008, she opened her own club, the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in her hometown.
Following the news of her death, organizers of the Detroit Jazz Festival issued a statement about her passing.
“We join the world in mourning her death, and celebrate her lifelong contributions to the Detroit community, specifically her unwavering commitment to the propagation of Detroit’s jazz legacy,” the statement said. “We will continue to honor Gretchen’s vision and legacy through our mission of jazz for everyone in Detroit and around the world.”
Despite her wealth, Valade was incredibly active and busy even in her later years. Besides the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and her work with Carhartt, she also owned another café, a coffee shop and a women’s shoe and clothing store.
In a quote shared by Carhartt, Valade said, “I prefer not to be bored. I wanted to occupy my time surrounded by things important to me, my family, my passions, my joys, and my community. And for me, being busy is a big part of a long life.”
Valade was the daughter of Gretchen S. Stearns and Wylie Carhartt, the son of Hamilton Carhartt, who founded the workwear company in Detroit in 1889. The company is now headquartered in Dearborn but remains family owned.
Valade is survived by her son, Mark, and daughter, Gretchen, her six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, Robert, and her son, Christopher.