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DALLAS -- Charles Gillespie "Charlie" Cullum, co-founder with his late older brother Robert "Bob" Cullum of the Tom Thumb food stores and a prominent citizen of this city, died at home Tuesday of complications from cancer, according to a published report. He was 89.
The Cullum brothers established a billion-dollar business from five bankrupt Toro's grocery stores that the family took over to cover a $200,000 bad debt in 1948. The chain was renamed Tom Thumb to symbolize the stiff battle they faced against the odds -- a battle they ultimately won as Tom Thumb became a major presence in the Dallas market.
Cullum served as president of Cullum Cos. from 1953 to 1976, chairman and c.e.o. from 1976 to 1984 and chairman of the executive committee from 1984 to 1988. The company became a publicly traded company in 1969, but went private in a $500 million leveraged buyout in 1988. In 1992 Houston-based Randall's Food Markets, Inc. acquired the company, which was in turn taken over by Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, Inc. as part of its $1.8 billion purchase of Randall's in 1999.
Among the company's innovations were the in-store bakery in 1952 and the addition of nonfood items to shelves in 1956. A keen observer of the supermarket scene, Cullum saw the potential of the superstore format during the energy crisis of the 70s.
As well as serving for four years on the Dallas City Council, where he was instrumental in the appointment of the first African-American council member, Cullum was a member of many civic organizations and a Sunday school teacher throughout his adult life.
Raised on a farm, Cullum, who was known for his reserved manner, originally started out as a journalist at the Dallas Morning News, but eventually joined the family wholesale food business in 1938. During World War II, he served in the Pacific as a military news editor and financial officer in the Navy.
Predeceased by his wife, Garland "Mac" Cullum, in July 2005, Cullum is survived by his daughter, Dallas journalist Lee Cullum; a sister, Eloise Cullum of Dallas; one grandchild; and three great-grandchildren.