news-category: In Memoriam

Gardner-Webb Remembers the Life and Legacy of Robert B. Tucker, who Passed Away on Sept. 30

Robert Tucker with his daughter Lisa
Robert B. Tucker with his daughter, Lisa, at the Tucker Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength Scholarship announcement in 2019

The Generosity of Shoe Show Inc. Co-Founder Helped Transform the University’s Campus

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Robert B. Tucker, a visionary entrepreneur who shared a dream that forever enhanced the Gardner-Webb University campus, passed away on Sept. 30, 2023. A devoted husband, father and businessman, Robert was known for his humble attitude and heart for helping others.

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs commented on Robert’s life of faith and service: “It is with sadness that the Gardner-Webb community mourns Mr. Tucker’s passing, yet rising above that emotion is our celebration of a life so admirably lived. In Robert Tucker we see a man who made an indelible and positive impact in his chosen field of business, in his family, and in his community.”

Downs continued, “His vision and generosity helped build the student center on our campus that today bears his family’s name. His commitment to enhancing opportunities for young people with good character and a love for the Lord established GWU’s most prestigious scholarship for incoming undergraduates. Mr. Tucker’s legacy will live on through each person privileged to have met him, through each student awarded the Tucker Scholarship, and through each visitor greeted by the Tuckers’ portrait as they enter our thriving student center. What a profoundly amazing legacy that is and shall forever be.”

Robert and his cherished wife and soulmate of 66 years, Carolyn, founded Shoe Show Inc. in 1960 in Kannapolis, N.C. Their success was based on a simple formula of providing quality products, service and value. Their longtime support of Gardner-Webb began after daughter Lisa graduated in 1989. Lisa, a volleyball player, has remained committed to the University for over three decades and currently serves as treasurer for the Board of Trustees.

In 2010, the Tuckers announced the largest donation in school history: A $5 million gift to begin construction of the Tucker Student Center, a 110,000 square-foot building that has become the heart of campus life. However, Robert was not finished. Two years later at the dedication ceremony, he surprised everyone by announcing an additional gift in the amount of $500,000.

On that day, he noted, “I remember once being in New York, and I crossed the street and saw a homeless man. I gave him $5 or $10. I’ll never forget his face, and I always wondered if I gave enough. So, I’m going to give another half-million dollars in honor of Dr. Dee Hunt (former vice president of Student Development).” The crowd broke into applause and Hunt’s face crumpled with emotion. Through Lisa, Hunt and the Tuckers maintained a strong bond until Hunt passed away in 2021. 

After the opening, Hunt described how the Tucker Student Center transformed the campus by locating Counseling, Student Success, Student Engagement, and Christian Life and Service in one building. “That center has made an unimaginable difference for the student body,” she observed. “The availability of the building and all the things we can do with it is amazing.”

In 2013 at the August commencement, Robert and Carolyn received the University’s highest recognition of merit, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degrees. During the ceremony, then President Dr. Frank Bonner noted the Tuckers’ continuous desire to quietly support various philanthropic endeavors. “Throughout their lives, Robert and Carolyn Tucker have gone to great lengths to fly under the radar,” he said at the presentation. “Their conviction is nowhere more apparent than in their extensive philanthropy, for which they have always sought to avoid public acclaim. They have given generously to churches and ministries.” 

Robert and Carolyn gave another historic gift in 2019 with the announcement of a $4 million endowment to establish the “Tucker Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength Scholarship.” The full-tuition, room and board scholarship is based on the Tuckers’ life verse, Mark 12:29-31. In the scripture, Jesus gives the two most important commandments. The first one is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Robert Tucker surprised Dr. Dee Hunt and everyone when he gave another $500,000 for the Tucker Student Center on the day the Center was dedicated in 2012.

Robert was born on Aug. 5, 1937, in the modest town of Badin, N.C. His parents divorced when he was a baby. In the post-war years, his mother, Gertrude Cranford Deese married Hugh Tucker, and he adopted Robert. The family moved to Concord, N.C., where Hugh was the proprietor of Tuck’s Tavern. Robert immersed himself in work, serving as a cook and curb boy at the establishment. Beyond the midnight hour, he diligently cleaned the parking lots of an ice cream shop and another local restaurant.

While still in high school and a member of the track team, Robert’s ambition led him to secure a job at Baucom’s Shoe Store during his senior year. This experience launched him into opening his own store, now a retail giant. Over the past 60 years, Shoe Show Inc. has continued to grow with stores named Shoe Show, Shoe Dept., Shoe Show Mega, Shoe Dept. Encore, Shoebilee and Burlington Shoes. Currently Shoe Show, Inc. has over 1,100 locations in 47 states.

The company is active in a number of charitable causes including Cooperative Christian Ministries, Bible Teaching Associations, Salvation Army, Hospice and Palliative Care of Cabarrus County, Crisis Pregnancy Center, Cabarrus Victims Assistance Network, and The ARC.

In lieu of flowers, the Tucker family kindly requests that memorials be directed to the Tucker Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength Foundation, P.O. Box 648, Concord, NC 28026. The family also asks, “In honoring Robert Tucker’s memory, may we all strive to continue the legacy of faith, fortitude, and generosity that defined his remarkable life.”

The funeral will be held at North Kannapolis Baptist Church, 312 Locust Street, Kannapolis, N.C., at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.  

The full obituary can be found here.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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