Frances Darby founded Paragon Industries in 1948. She produced one of the first electric kilns in America.
Frances Darby, founder of Paragon Industries, died during the night of June 17, 2007. For those at Paragon who knew her, she remains an unforgettable character. She was a business leader during a time when women leaders were rare.
“The outstanding thing about Mrs. Darby was her sense of integrity and respect for the truth,” said John R. Hohenshelt, who bought the company in 1985.
“Everybody who knew her has Frances Darby stories,” he said. “Most of those stories illustrate the one personality trait that stands out, which was her relentless dedication to the truth.
“She didn’t undertake obligations lightly. If she owed you a dollar,” he continued, “she’d spend $100 chasing you to the end of the earth to repay you.”
Frances Darby was fiercely independent. One time John Watson, owner of Evenheat Kilns, asked her at a trade show, “Would you like me to help you open that crate?”
“Don’t you think a woman can do it?” she said as she continued prying apart the wood.
“She had a positive outlook that inspired women,” said Karen Smith, who spent four years working for Mrs. Darby. “She made women feel that they could accomplish anything.
“The work ethic that I have today is due to Mrs. Darby’s influence,” said Karen. “She had a tremendous impact on my life. When I worked for her, it was uncommon for a woman to own a business, and it inspired me that she ran this place and ran it well. People who worked for her really respected her.” Karen was 19 years old when she started at Paragon.
“Frances Darby had a rare and powerful presence,” said Arnold Howard, who worked for her for seven years. “You could sense it immediately when you met her. She exuded confidence.
“One day I also realized how compassionate she was,” Arnold said. “During the late 70s I asked her, ‘Have you been watching the Holocaust series on TV?’ She said, ‘No, I can’t watch it, because it makes me cry.’”
Frances Darby was utterly dedicated to product quality. "Paragon" is Greek meaning model of perfection. She took that name seriously.
We like to think that her influence is still with us as we strive to continue making kilns that she would be proud of.
FROM THE JUNE 22 OBITUARY IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Frances was born on August 6, 1919. Her amazing red hair was a trade mark that she kept naturally all through her life.
Her life path was set in late 1947 when she started ceramics classes from a teacher across the street. Because firing pottery and porcelain was so expensive, her husband, Joseph J. Darby, built her a kiln to fire large china plates.
Paragon Industries was born, and one kiln led to another, then hundreds, and then thousands. Over the years, Frances' company became the largest hobby kiln manufacturer in the world.
She became known as a highly principled CEO constantly fighting the "glass ceiling." She fought the airlines when women were not allowed in business class; challenged the banking industry when they required a male cosigner on notes; she fought for women business owners and the expansion of equal rights for women at a time when educated women taught school or became nurses.
Always a student, Frances read every day, many times to discover an ancient, long forgotten wisdom. The stories of her courage and determination will remain the hearts of those who knew her.
She is survived by two sons, Michael R. Darby of Pacific Palisades, California and Joseph J. Darby of Dallas, Texas.
The Celebration of Life was held at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, 421 Custer Road, Richardson, Texas on Saturday, June 23, 2007.
Frances Darby teaching a kiln maintenance seminar in 1978.