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Henry Branscome Dies at Age 79

Fri March 04, 2011 - Southeast Edition
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Henry S. Branscome, 79, founder of Branscome Inc., died Feb. 17, surrounded by his wife and children while visiting Orange Lake, Fla., the family vacation home.
Henry S. Branscome, 79, founder of Branscome Inc., died Feb. 17, surrounded by his wife and children while visiting Orange Lake, Fla., the family vacation home.

Stuart Patterson remembers the day 30 years ago when Henry Branscome hired him.

“I was selling construction equipment and went to see him on a sales call,” Patterson recalled. “I made my pitch and Henry looked at me and said, ’I’m not going to buy your equipment, but I want you to come work for me.’ That’s the kind of man he was. He takes people under his wing. He was my boss, but he was also my mentor.”

Henry S. Branscome, 79, founder of Branscome Inc., died Feb. 17, surrounded by his wife and children while visiting Orange Lake, Fla., the family vacation home.

Born in 1931 in Carroll County, Mr. Branscome came to Williamsburg in 1953 and in 1956 began what would be the first of many successful businesses, Henry S. Branscome Inc.

Pete Henderson, now 89 and the founder of Henderson Inc., met Mr. Branscome when he first came to town.

“I was working for a Richmond contractor building Dunbar –– today’s Eastern State Hospital,” Henderson recalled. “Henry was a one-man company. He and Lavelle lived in a little trailer near Five Forks. He had a front-end loader and a pickup truck to pull it. He’d hire himself out. Anything you asked him to do, he would do it.”

Mr. Branscome built the business into one of the largest multi-faceted heavy construction companies on the East Coast. He had thousands of devoted employees over the years as his business grew, constructing many of Virginia’s roads and Interstate highways.

“Business starters have to be tenacious,” said Gary Massie, a competitor and a friend. “But he was always a gentleman. I was very fortunate to know him and to compete with him.

“Henry vertically integrated his business,” Massie explained. “He was a pioneer in drum-mix asphalt plants in the area. And because of it, he led in asphalt production.”

Their two companies collaborated in the 1970s on Interstate 64.

“Henry got the section from Exit 234 to Camp Peary. We got the section between exits 231 and 234.”

On other projects, Massie’s firm would perform the utility work and grading, then subcontract Branscome to lay asphalt.

After opening Henry Manufacturing Co., Mr. Branscome designed and patented the concrete cyclone reclaimer, used by concrete companies worldwide. He developed Powhatan Shores and Banbury Cross, and was past owner of Olde Mill Golf Course.

“He taught me the business,” Patterson said. “He never had anything bad to say about our competition or anyone. He built a terrific company by believing in the people in the business. The people at Branscome owe him a great deal of admiration for building the company that it is today.”

The Colas Group acquired the company in 2001.

“He wouldn’t sell to anyone who wouldn’t keep the management or the people intact,” Patterson said. “He wanted to keep the family together. A lot of entrepreneurs would not have done that.”

An elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mr. Branscome served in many capacities over the years. He donated much of his time and resources toward building the chapel where 600 local members worship today. He was especially fond of the youth, always willing to hire “just one more” who needed money for college or to help support a struggling family.

He was well known in the business community for his generosity and tremendous work ethic.

Left to cherish his memories are his wife of 59 years, Lavelle Martin Branscome; daughters, Jeanette Branscome Brady (Wayne), Judy Branscome Turman (Roy), Joyce Branscome Hockaday (Mark), and Jacqueline L. Branscome; his son, Henry S. Branscome II (Diane); his 17 beloved grandchildren: Jeremy Brady (Jenny), Annette Turman Turner (David), Roxanna Brady Woods (David), April Turman Bowman (Chad), Jason W. Brady (Norah), Audra Turman Jeppson (Levi), Amanda Brady Redfern (Ben), Samuel R. Turman, Justin C. Hockaday (Melissa), Jordan M. Hockaday, Ashley Brady Stewart (Caleb), and Cordy, Gussie, Henry S. “Happy” Branscome III, Doc, Peaches and Chismer Branscome; and 23 wonderful great-grandchildren.

Also surviving are his sister, Violet Nester of Williamsburg; and brother, Julius L. Branscome of Woodbridge.

A viewing was held Feb. 20, at Nelsen Funeral Home; a funeral service was held the following day at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel, 2017 Newman Rd.