ELIZABETHTON — “It is time. I am 75. I feel it sometimes,” Bob Cable said this past week in announcing he will be retiring.
Cable plans to spend more time with his wife, Brenda, and enjoy the fruits of his many years of labor. Those fruits include bananas he grows in his back yard.
Cable has been the owner and operator of Ledford’s Upholstery, 525 E. Elk Ave. in downtown Elizabethton, for the past 23 years. His business has been very successful and he said he has turned away work worth thousands of dollars after he made his decision to retire.
The reputation Ledford’s has achieved has led to many prestigious assignments, including work for the Governor’s Mansion in Nashville, the White House and that arbiter elegantiae, Martha Stewart.
He has emphasized quality not just for those orders but for all of his shop’s work.
“We have about a 99.9 percent satisfaction rate,” Cable said. “We have an awful lot of repeat business, and in this work, repeat business is a sign the customer likes what you have done.”
“People have been good to me,” Cable said. “I have made a lot of good friends. I appreciate all the kindness I have received.”
While Cable has been a successful businessman, he is better known for his many civic activities. One of his biggest accomplishments was to bring back the Fourth of July Parade after an absence of nearly 40 years. He is proud the parade drew the largest single-day gathering in the history of downtown. It was a crowd estimated by an East Tennessee State University professor at 23,000 to 25,000. For several years the parade route was marked by red, white and blue lines down East Elk.
He also organized a welcome home celebration for the 776th Maintenance Company when the National Guard unit returned home from Desert Storm. Yellow ribbons were tied to every utility pole on the route and the streets were filled with happy citizens. Cable bought 2,000 small American flags with his own money and had them distributed to the crowd.
A large flagpole was erected at that time at the western entrance to downtown. Cable has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the giant flag that flies from the pole and, assisted by the Elizabethton Fire Department, has the flag replaced when it becomes worn and dirty. Funds for the flags come from veterans.
In another patriotic effort, Cable served on the Veterans War Memorial Committee and the Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area. He is still a member of the board of directors of the Elizabethton-Carter County Foundation, which provides funds for worthy nonprofit organizations in the county.
Cable also loves Christmas, and was instrumental in erecting the new “Merry Christmas” sign on top of Lynn Mountain that can be seen throughout downtown Elizabethton. The letters were made at the local NCI Building Systems plant and is made from nearly half-inch-thick steel. The letters are 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. He also had three crosses erected on the mountain.
In keeping with his love of Christmas, Cable led the annual Downtown Christmas Parade for several years.
He also led the lighting of the 78-foot-tall Fraser fir. During this time, he selected people who had a connection with the tree and the Folsom house to turn on the Christmas tree lights.
Cable also is known for his philanthropy, collecting spare change from customers throughout the year to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He has made donations to many others in the area who were victims of disasters.
When City Manager Fred Edens heard Cable was retiring, he said “I love Bob Cable. I will really miss him. He added spice to the downtown community. I wish him the best of luck in his retirement.”
“There will always be a place in my heart for Bob,” Mayor Curt Alexander said. “He was like the dad I didn’t have anymore. Even today when I want an honest answer I go to Bob because I know he will be honest and tell it like it is.”
Alexander’s friendship goes back to the 1990s when he was in the trucking business and hauled foam for Cable. Since Cable had also been in the trucking business, the two had something in common and became such good friends they went to every University of Tennessee football game in 1998, the year the team won the national championship.
“I had the best time of my life when we went together to Las Vegas and Arizona for the national championship. Bob always does everything first class.”
Neighboring business owner Bill Carter said Cable was one of the first to welcome him to downtown when he opened his antique shop.
“He welcomed me and encouraged me. Then he found out I had been in the military and he got me to help him get helicopters to fly over his Fourth of July parade.”
Both Alexander and Cable commented on Cable’s civic efforts always becoming big productions.
“He always did things first class and he had no tolerance for mediocrity,” Carter said.
“He has been so active, so out in front for 50 years that I hope he can slow down some. I hope he can be very active in his retirement,” Alexander said.
Cable said he believes he will enjoy his slower pace.
“I plan to spend some time with Brenda and do some traveling and when I want more excitement I can bring over my nieces and nephews who live next door. There is Gabriel and Bellah and Chloe and Sadie and Ava. They can keep me going.”