J. Harwood Cochrane, American transportation executive, Died at 103

James Harwood Cochrane was born on November 16, 1912, and died on July 25, 2016.

He was a prominent Virginia businessman and philanthropist.

He was also a inductee into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Himself and his six brothers and sisters grew up in humble circumstances.

At their rural Goochland County home lacked both plumbing and central heating.

James’s father died of pneumonia when Harwood was 16 years old, and his mother ran a soup kitchen in Richmond, Virginia.

James met his future wife of eight decades, Louise Odell Banks, on a blind date (each with another person) and they wed in the parlor of the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in 1934.

Cochrane’s mother fixed their wedding dinner, and their honeymoon was a movie at the Loew’s theater in downtown Richmond.

James and Louise celebrated their 80th anniversary at the same location, although the location had become the Carpenter Theater (a national historic landmark since 1979), and their 1000 guests listened to Steven Smith conduct the Richmond Symphony Women’s Chorus, Richmond Ballet and various soloists.

During 1929, as a teenager Cochrane had quit Goochland High School and began delivering milk for the Virginia Dairy Company, Incorporated (1912-1978).

James had long remembered those years of starting work shortly before 2 a.m. He, his brother Calvin and Charlie the Horse were “Cochrane Transportation.”

Together the brothers had established separate trucking companies in 1933, splitting up routes.

During 1935, regardless of the Great Depression and having married Louise only about a year earlier, Cochrane quit the part-time dairy delivery job and formed Overnite Transportation.

The company grew overnight grew both internally and by acquiring other trucking companies.

The business relied on establishing a system of terminals to facilitate short-haul deliveries.

As of 1986, the company which began with a tractor, a trailer, a straight truck and two part-time drivers had become large enough that the Union Pacific Corporation offered to buy it.

Even though Cochrane initially demurred, he finally sold it for $1.2 billion.

Some of his employees, who had received stock, also became wealthy.

J. Harwood Cochrane remained as Overnite’s CEO until 1991 (at age 79 and when a 5-year non-competition agreement expired).

He died within a year of his wife of 81 years, Louise.

He left behind their son James Harwood Cochrane Jr. and daughter Judith Cochrane Gilman-Hines, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Their daughter Suzanne Hope Cochrane Austell Martin died in 2009 and another daughter Treena died as an infant.

J. Harwood Cochrane passed away at 103 years old.