The roofing industry is mourning the loss of Ethelmae Humphreys, considered the matriarch of the roofing industry, who died Dec. 27 at 94. Ethelmae was the daughter of TAMKO-founder E.L. Craig, and worked for the building products manufacturer in several capacities since 1948. A trailblazer, she had been a consistent presence in the roofing industry for nearly three-quarters of a century.
Ethelmae worked in the roofing shingle manufacturing business most of her life, starting by sacking nails in a Kansas City shingle plant and concluding with 73 years of service as chairman emerita. Ethelmae was named executive vice-president and took control of the day-to-day operations of TAMKO in 1950, at the age of the 23, after her father suffered a stroke. She succeeded in a predominantly male industry, confidently leading a major corporation as a 20-something woman in 1950s America, setting an example for women in the manufacturing and roofing industries.
She left full-time work at TAMKO in the late 1950s to care for her children with her husband J.P. (Jay) Humphreys taking the lead at TAMKO. She served as TAMKO’s chairman beginning in 1972 and returned to full-time work at the company in 1985. Ethelmae served as CEO after her husband’s death in 1993, until the couple’s oldest son, David, was named President and CEO the following year. In 2019 -- the same year TAMKO celebrated 75 years in business -- Ethelmae became chairman emerita and passed the reins of chairman to her son, David. In 2021, she celebrated over 73 years of service with the company having continued to work on mostly a daily basis until the time of her death because, as she said: “TAMKO is like my home and I love my home. The office is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I was the closest to my father, and then the closest to my husband Jay. It’s been a major part of my life. I get the feeling of family closeness here and I’m proud of the organization and amazed by its growth and success.”
Her son, David, current TAMKO chairman and CEO, said: “Throughout her life and career, my mother showed by example that family was the most important thing to her and that family values were foundational to the culture she helped to build at TAMKO. She was universally loved and revered by her family, employees and in the communities and circles of influence where she lived and worked. She was a measure of true grace and her compassion for others was unmatched. We mourn for our loss but we remain forever grateful for her presence in our lives and the lives of all those that she touched.”
TAMKO was Ethelmae’ s legacy as she guided its transition from one generation to another. She once referred to herself as the glue in TAMKO’s 77-year history, taking on the leadership role at the company during the difficult transitions after her father and her husband passed saying “I have been the glue between these men. I am their daughter, wife and mother. This business has been my life.” And TAMKO and its employees were always foremost in her thoughts.
Ethelmae, and later her husband Jay, helped grow TAMKO from a small, local shingle manufacturer with two plants in Joplin, to one of the largest privately-owned roofing manufacturers in the U.S. and one of the top four asphalt shingle producers in the nation with more than a dozen plants in nine states, a nation-wide distribution system of warehouses and a diversified array of building products. Even more exceptional, however, were her pursuits outside the business.
Some of her greatest accomplishments during her long career include the creation of TAMKO’s employee profit sharing plan in 1954, and the creation and management of both the E.L. Craig Foundation and J.P. Humphreys Foundation, charitable organizations that she funded and directed to donate millions of dollars for the support of individual rights, free enterprise, and civil society. She also focused much of her charitable giving close to home, supporting both Mercy and Freeman Hospitals as well as academic institutions in her four-state-area community, including stepping forward to provide significant funding to expand Freeman Hospital and to help rebuild Mercy Hospital after it was destroyed in the historic May 2011 tornado that ravaged her hometown of Joplin, Mo.
Ethelmae was preceded in death by her parents and her husband, former longtime TAMKO President, Jay (J.P.) Humphreys. She is survived by her three children: David (Debra), Sarah (Paul Atkins), and John (Martha); 12 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
TAMKO Building Products contributed to this report.