Herbert Dale Knight
Herbert Dale Knight, who devoted his 92 years of life to love of family and Luby’s Cafeterias, died Aug. 1, 2019 surrounded by friends and family at his home in San Antonio.
Throughout his 50-year career with Luby’s and afterwards in retirement, Herbert was admired for his integrity, decency, sense of fairness, kindness and a work ethic that never wavered, nor did his love for his wife Ina Faye, who preceded him in death in 2001.
Herbert was born May 6, 1927 on a farm near Buffalo, in Freestone County and lived in a farmhouse without running water or electricity until he left home at age 16. He enrolled in Business College in Dallas and took a job as a busboy at a downtown Dallas Luby’s cafeteria, a job that would lead to a lifetime career and passion. It’s at that downtown Luby’s that he met his wife Ina Faye, who was working as a busgirl at the same time. After serving two years in the US Navy during World War II, Herbert and Ina Faye married on Nov. 24, 1946 and they moved to Waco where Herbert managed the downtown Waco Luby’s cafeteria.
In 1953, he was named manager of the Luby’s on Main Street in downtown Dallas and in 1960, Herbert was appointed manager of the soon-to-be opened Luby’s in McAllen, an expansion market for the San Antonio-based Luby’s chain. After a woeful beginning, opening during an unusual winter freeze in the tropical Rio Grande Valley, Herbert built the McAllen Luby’s into the most profitable cafeteria in the entire organization.
He knew and engaged in every aspect of the cafeteria business, from washing dishes to food preparation to constantly “filling-in”, keeping the food on the counter consistently fresh and presentable. His focus on quality and detail was unmatched. He said that managing a cafeteria was “a labor of love” which stayed with him throughout his career.
In 1971, Herbert was named the company’s first area manager, and moved to Dallas to guide Luby’s expansion into Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Ten years later he was promoted to head all operations for Luby’s Cafeterias, and he and Ina Faye relocated to San Antonio. Even after moving into the corporate offices, Herbert was happiest out in the field, working with cafeteria managers in individual units, helping develop and build their respective operations.
After retirement, when asked about events that stood out in his five decades with Luby’s he cited: The joy of being offered an opportunity with Luby’s by Mr. Charles Johnson and Mr. Bob Luby; the thrill of opening the first McAllen Luby’s and the disappointment because of a severe freeze that occurred on the same day; Mr. Luby’s visit to McAllen in 1962 to encourage him, followed by achieving operational records while in McAllen; and ten great years in the corporate office.
Herbert and Ina Faye traveled around the world, often with their two adult children. Thanksgiving was always special as it coincided with Herbert and Ina Faye’s wedding anniversary as well daughter Mary’s birthday. Thanksgiving trips took the Knight family to a new destination each year.
More than international travel, Herbert loved spending time on the family farm in Freestone County. Herbert raised cattle as a hobby and taught himself the fine points of cattle ranching. He never forgot his roots, growing up on a small cotton farm where “we had nothing.” Once when asked why he worked so hard every day in the cafeteria, he said, “hard work was picking cotton for a nickel a bale.”
Herbert stopped traveling after Ina Faye passed away, but socializing with “the Luby group” became a favorite pastime. The family farm always was special to him as it allowed him to do what he enjoyed doing -- fixing things. “There’s always something on the farm that needs fixing.” His son and daughter became accustomed to Herbert’s occasional visits where he’d take it upon himself to fix things in their homes, usually without having been asked. He loved animals and during visits to Dallas, he delighted in taking care of Mary or Dale’s pets while they continued the family tradition of traveling to distant shores during the holidays. He said he didn’t mind doing so and encouraged his children’s travels. “It’s our family tradition,” he’d say.
Herbert’s extraordinary life is best summed up in the book “House of Plenty” written by Carol Dawson about the rise and fall of Luby’s Cafeterias. The final lines read:
“The last word in this hymn to a classic embodiment of the American Dream must belong to Herbert Knight, the sixteen-year-old farm boy without a college education who started his vocational life as a busboy in the Main Street, Dallas, Luby’s in 1943 and wound up a hardworking hero, as the retired vice president of the largest cafeteria chain in the nation.”
Besides son Douglas Dale and daughter Mary Faye, Herbert is survived by sisterin-law Elizabeth Knight, Santa Barbara, Calif.; nephews Kevin Knight, Liberty, Utah and Robert Knight, Santa Maria, Calif.; and nieces Tracy Betz and Laura Upshaw of Tyler. Also, Sonny Vera Cruz from Manila, Philippines, a former exchange student who lived with the Knight family in McAllen and who Herbert considered a second son. He was preceded in death by parents Robert and Loyce Knight and a brother, Kendal Knight, sister-in-law Lila Maye Lewis, brother-in-law Winston Upshaw and nephew Kermit Upshaw.
The family wishes to especially thank Scott and Terri Yantis for their love, kindness, compassion and assistance in Herbert’s final months, as well as caretakers Ofelia Valdez, Susana Bello and Hope Martinez.
Herbert was humble throughout his life and always considered himself “just a country boy.” He was so much more than that. He touched many, many lives and will be remembered by all who knew him as a kind and gentle man ….a true gentleman. He will be dearly missed. He left the world a better place.
A celebration of the wonderful life of Herbert Knight will be held at 12:00 Noon, Sept. 10, 2019 in San Antonio at Argyle Club, 934 Patterson Avenue. He will be buried next to Ina Faye at Union Cemetery in Freestone County at a later date.
Memorial donations may be made to the SPCA or the charity of your choice.