Frederick B. Dent, Commerce Secretary and Nixon Ally, Dies at 97

Frederick Baily Dent was born in Cape May, N.J., on Aug. 17, 1922, to Magruder and Edith (Baily) Dent. He grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., an Episcopal boarding school where John V. Lindsay, the future congressman and mayor of New York City, was a fellow member of the class of 1940. (Mr. Dent and Jeb Magruder were not related.)

At Yale, Mr. Dent, an honor student, majored in government, played varsity football and hockey and, with academics compressed because of World War II, graduated in 1943. A member of the Naval Reserve, he joined the Navy and saw action in the Pacific as a lieutenant junior grade on patrol boats and landing craft that ferried troops to beachheads, including Okinawa’s in the final stages of the war.

In 1944, he married Mildred Harrison. They had five children. Besides his daughter, Ms. Ketchum, he is survived by two sons, Frederick Jr. and Magruder; two daughters, Mildred Stuart and Diana McGraw; 14 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 1997. Mr. Dent lived in Spartanburg.

In 1946, he went to work for Joshua L. Baily, a New York City textile sales firm founded in 1876 by his maternal great-grandfather. In 1947, he moved to Spartanburg, S.C., and joined Mayfair Mills, an Arcadia, S.C., textile mill that had been owned by his family since the 1930s. He became president of the company in 1958 and oversaw its expansion from two to six mills employing 17,000 people in South Carolina and Georgia.

After his work in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Mr. Dent returned to Mayfair Mills as president and in 1988 was named chairman, while a son, Rick, acting president since 1973, became president and chief executive. The company closed in 2001, but Mr. Dent remained active in his support of arts and music centers, a day school and a technical college.

He was also a member and past president of the advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste.