James Lee Peach Sr., the fisherman’s son who turned a lifelong interest in pearls into two prominent U.S. businesses, died on May 26, following complications from surgery. He was 79.
Peach grew in up poor, one of eight siblings, in Benton County, Tenn. As a child, he would help his father harvest shells and natural pearls from the Tennessee River.
“James experienced the challenges of limited resources firsthand,” said an online obit. “These circumstances instilled in him a profound understanding of the value of hard work and perseverance. Through unwavering determination, James diligently worked his way through college, taking on the humble task of washing dishes to fund his education.”
When Peach graduated from Murray State University in 1967, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree. He also served for six years in the Army National Guard.
In the 1970s, he founded the American Shell Company, which became a leading supplier to the Japanese cultured pearl industry. He later founded the United States Pearl Company, which at one point was one of the largest pearl sellers in America.
“I buy my pearls almost exclusively from James Peach from the United States Pearl Company,” said designer Naomi Sarna in 2016. “He really has an eye for unusual pieces.”
In 2015, JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky called him a “giant in the American pearling industry.”
Peach was also active in local politics, both behind the scenes and as a representative in the Tennessee state assembly, where he served from 1995 to 1996.
During his later years, Peach enjoyed visiting thrift stores and enjoying the beauty of the Kentucky Lake.
“It was not uncommon to find him humming or deeply immersed in the soul-stirring melodies of gospel music, which resonated deeply within his heart,” the obit said.
Peach is survived by Venetia, his wife of 52 years; children James Jr., Vincent, and Angela, all of whom have worked in the pearl industry; five grandchildren; three brothers; and a sister.
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