J. Harwood Cochrane, a Virginian whose fortune from a trucking empire supported numerous Baptist causes as well as the arts, died July 26 at 103.
Cochrane and his late wife, Louise, who died last year at 99, were well-known benefactors of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and the Virginia Opera.
But the long-time members of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond also strongly supported Baptist institutions, including Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
Cochrane founded Richmond-based Overnite Transportation Co. in 1935 and built it into a large trucking operation before selling it in 1986 for an estimated $1.2 billion. He later started Highway Express Inc. trucking company at age 79 in 1991 and sold it in 2003.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cochrane dropped out of high school at 16, when his father died, to work full time. Four years later he started his delivery company with just one tractor-trailer. He pawned whatever he could to get gasoline on his return trips home. He turned Overnite Transportation into one of the nation’s largest trucking companies. It is now known as UPS Freight.
In 1998 the Cochranes gave $1 million to the still-young Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, the first of several gifts which benefitted the school. In 2012, when the seminary conferred its first honorary doctorates, both the Cochranes were recipients.
Earlier in the 1980s, the Cochranes contributed almost 240 acres of land in Rockville, Va., about 15 miles from Richmond, for a missionary training center for what is now the SBC International Mission Board. Over the next several years, the couple gave a total of about $9 million to the board in cash, stocks and property. In 1992, however, Baptist Press reported that the Cochranes declined to make additional contributions, saying they were “very, very disappointed” with the conservative direction taken by the board.
Cochrane is survived by a son, James Harwood Cochrane Jr., and a daughter, Judith Cochrane Gilman-Hines, both of Henrico County, Va. Another daughter, Suzanne Hope Cochrane Austell Martin, died in 2009.
Funeral arrangements are pending.