William George Lunsford, 51: Expert on denim jeans

"He looked like the Marlboro man, only he didn't smoke," said William Kulbersh, his partner of nearly six years. "He was very commanding and he wore beautiful clothes, but he was frugal and never spent much money on them. He knew fabrics."

Notably denim.

For the past several years, Mr. Lunsford worked as vice president of product development for Denim North America, a privately-held company that operates out of an $87 million facility in Columbus, Ga. He was responsible for product innovation, service and quality. He had to spot  trends and incorporate those trends in the denim jeans market.

"He was recognized in the industry and was probably the best in his role," said company president Monte Galbraith. "Innovation is key; he was clearly at the top of the pile."

Colleagues at Denim North America knew that Mr. Lunsford had been struggling with colon cancer. So in April, the company named its development center in his honor.

On Sunday, William George Lunsford died from complications of colon cancer at his home in Atlanta. He was 51. An open house will be held at noon on June 13 at his residence on Mornington Drive. Southcare Cremation Society and Memorial Centers in Marietta is in charge of arrangements.

An Atlanta native, Mr. Lunsford put himself through college working as a painter with his brother's business. He graduated in 1980 from Georgia Tech with a bachelor's degree in textile chemistry. He earned a master's degree in the same field at North Carolina State University.

Mr. Lunsford held various positions with textile companies before he was named vice president of product development at Denim North America. He traveled extensively inspecting  jeans and fabrics for his employer and made numerous trips to India, Europe and elsewhere. He worked at Denim North from 2002 until his death.

"He knew how denim was made and what the customers did on the other end," said co-worker Linsey Hinkleof Columbus. "He had complete knowledge of the process, knew the business and the people in it, and they respected and admired him."

Relatives knew what Mr. Lunsford did for a living, but only after his illness were they made aware of his expertise, said niece Charity Muldoonof East Cobb.

"We knew he traveled like crazy, but he would never boast or brag or anything like that," she said. "We have learned how highly respected he was in his field, how he was a leader and a teacher. He lived a good, clean honest life. He motivates me  to be a better person."

It was Mr. Lunsford's decision to have an open house in memory of his life. He had one other request for family and colleagues who attend the event: Wear denim.

Additional survivors include his mother, Edna Lunsford and a brother, Robert Lunsford, both of Snellville; two sisters, Betty Jean Nicolson of Jacksonville, Fla. and Eileen Patterson of Daytona Beach, Fla.

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