LeRoy T. “Roy” Carlson, founder and chairman emeritus of Telephone and Data Systems, has died. He was 100 years old.
Chicago-based TDS is parent company of TDS Telecom, Madison, and Suttle-Straus printing, Waunakee, as well as U.S. Cellular, and OneNeck IT Solutions of Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Roy was a visionary and an inspiration to those who knew him personally and professionally,” TDS chairman Walter Carlson, his son, said in a statement. “Roy was always looking forward and saw new opportunity in every situation. He understood and appreciated the great potential in telecommunications and its ability to improve the lives of all people.”
Born on May 15, 1916, in Chicago, Carlson displayed entrepreneurial skills from an early age. His parents, Axel and Gerda, were immigrants from Sweden.When his father, a carpenter and contractor, could not find work during the Depression, young Roy pitched in, selling fruit and vegetables from a cart in his South Side neighborhood.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Chicago in 1938 and a master’s from Harvard Business School in 1941, working his way through graduate school by running a laundry pickup and delivery service for students.
But beyond that, Carlson was particularly proud of a manual he wrote, along with two other Harvard M.B.A. students, on how to organize U.S. resources to prepare for World War II. Sent to advisers to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the manual brought the trio a meeting with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, where they presented her with a copy of the book-long document, just months before the U.S. entered the war in December 1941.
During World War II, Carlson served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1943; later, he served in the U.S. Navy, from 1945 to 1946. After the war, he held a variety of business management positions, including a stint working for Joseph P. Kennedy at the Chicago Merchandise Mart.
Carlson founded TDS in 1969. Starting with a handful of rural telephone companies in southern Wisconsin, it has grown to a nationwide telecommunications provider with revenues of $5 billion in 2015 and more than 10,000 employees.
Carlson celebrated his 100th birthday with “more than 100 well-wishes” from employees at TDS in Madison, TDS spokeswoman DeAnne Boegli said. He died eight days later, on May 23.
His survivors include his wife, Margaret; children LeRoy Jr. (Ted), Letitia, Prudence, and Walter; a sister, Florence Wertz; and 10 grandchildren.
A private funeral service was held for the family on Memorial Day with plans in the works for a public celebration of his life at a future date.
TDS Telecom has 3,400 employees, including about 1,100 in Madison, while Suttle-Straus has about 180 employees, according to personnel figures provided to the Wisconsin State Journal’s 2016 Book of Business. OneNeck has a large data center in Fitchburg.
A full obituary is on Page A6.