Independents

Bill Underwood of Underwoods Jewelers Dies at 90

IndependentsApr 06, 2023

Bill Underwood of Underwoods Jewelers Dies at 90

The former American Gem Society president is remembered as an industry icon and a beloved mentor.

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William “Bill” Underwood, founder of Underwoods Jewelers and former AGS president, died April 2 at age 90.
Fayetteville, Ark.—William “Bill” Underwood, founder of Underwoods Jewelers and former American Gem Society president, died April 2 from cancer.
 
He was 90.
 
Underwood was born in 1932 to Mildred and Robert G. Underwood in Mountain View, Oklahoma, in the midst of the Great Depression, according to his online obituary.
 
He earned a degree in horology from Southwestern State College, then joined the Navy, serving for four years.
 
With help from the G.I. Bill, Underwood went back to school, earning a business degree from the University of Arkansas.
 
Two pivotal moments in his life would soon take place in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
 
He met his wife, LeAnn, whom he married in 1958, and, armed with a $1,000 loan, he started Underwoods Jewelers.
 
He built the business from the ground up and continued his education along the way. He was part of the first class in the U.S. to earn the designation of Certified Gemologist Appraiser.
 
Underwood was a longtime member of AGS, serving as its president from 1988 to 1990.
 
“The AGS community has lost a true icon,” said Katherine Bodoh, CEO of AGS.
 
“Bill made a significant and positive impact on our community, and his involvement with AGS was greatly valued. We will always remember his dedication, leadership, and passion for AGS and the industry. Bill will be deeply missed, and his memory will continue to inspire us.”
 
His son, Craig Underwood, is the current president of Underwoods Jewelers, and has also served as president of the association. 
 
Cathy Calhoun of Calhoun Jewelers recalled to National Jeweler the day she met Underwood at her first AGS Conclave event in Washington, D.C., more than thirty years ago.
 
He spotted her in the lobby and joked that she looked lost. She was, she admitted, as she was new to the industry at the time. Underwood showed her the ropes and took her under his wing, a kindness she still remembers.
 
“He really made me feel like I was part of something. That started years of friendship,” she said.
 
“I’m heartbroken,” said Calhoun. “He had the largest personality with the biggest, most inviting smile, of anyone I’ve ever met. When you saw him, he made you feel like you were instantly friends.”
 
Underwood was inducted into the National Jeweler Retailer Hall of Fame in 1991.
 
He was an active member of his community, joining the Central United Methodist Church and various organizations, including the Fayetteville Civil Service Commission, the Rotary Club, and the Freemasons.
 
Bill and LeAnn Underwood were behind several gifts to the community, including the Sam M. Walton Honor Lab at the University of Arkansas, the Underwood Garden gift to the Walton Arts Center, and the media room at the Fayetteville Public Library. 
 
In 2004, he was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Sam M. Walton College of Business. In 2019, the school awarded him the Citation of Distinguished Alumnus Award.
 
In addition to his jewelry business, Underwood was a pilot for 60 years, a recreational joy he shared with family and friends.
 
Underwood is survived by his wife, LeAnn; his son Craig Underwood and his wife Laura; his daughter Michelle Gass and her husband Barry; his daughter Vicki Nelson and her husband Kurt; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
 
He was preceded in death by his brother, John David Underwood.
 
The family is holding a celebration of his life today at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville.
 
In lieu of flowers, his family is requesting donations be made to the University of Arkansas Walton College of Business or the Walton Arts Center.
 
Lenore Fedowis the associate editor, news at National Jeweler, covering the retail beat and the business side of jewelry.

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