In 1970 with just $600, Comer co-founded Pro-Line Corporation, a maker of haircare products for black people. 30 years later, Comer sold the company to global cosmetics giant Alberto Culver for about $80 million.*
But now comes the most fascinating part of our story, what Comer did with much of the money.
He became a dedicated philanthropist, determined to help uplift the world.
Even before the sale, Comer had a substantial income from Pro-Line and had already begun to make charitable contributions. It was a part of his background
For Comer had grown up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1930's and 40's and segregation and a lack of educational and other opportunities severely limited black people, including his family.
As a result, he felt "strongly about helping the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC], founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. Through the SCLC, I have given financial assistance to many college students … "
The reason is Comer felt education was the key to success for African-Americans and others.
In 1990 at a bankruptcy auction, he bought historically black Bishop College in Dallas for $1.5 million.
He then convinced another historically black college, Paul Quinn College, based in Waco, Tex. to occupy that Dallas campus, as Comer contributed $1.7 million more to enhance the facilities. He also financed a scholarship program.
Comer also became actively involved in the state juvenile correction facility, where many inmates are black. As a result of major changes he instituted, half the kids attain their GEDs (high school equivalency diplomas) and/or go on to college, and the system itself now produces many productive citizens.
In his honor, the state of Texas renamed the facility the Cottrell House.
In addition, Comer became the first black board member of giant Texas Commerce Bank, (now part of JP Morgan Chase) which helped to open the doors much wider to black borrowers, many of whom used to be "red-lined" (excluded) from loans, or had to pay higher rates.
But all of this was not enough for Comer.
He created Cottrell Investments to provide venture capital, ("risk capital") so black entrepreneurs, who were often excluded by venture capital firms, could start and build their businesses, creating products and services and jobs that would serve everyone.
At age 82, Comer recently passed away, but during his lifetime, he set a wonderful example for all of us, having started with no money, built a successful business, and reinvested much of his money to uplift humanity.