CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WGHP) — Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson is dead at the age of 86, the team announced on Thursday.

Richardson was a part of the effort to bring professional football to the Carolinas which eventually led to Charlotte being given an expansion franchise in 1995.

“Jerry Richardson’s contributions to professional football in the Carolinas are historic,” Panthers owners David and Nicole Tepper said in a statement. “With the arrival of the Panthers in 1995, he changed the landscape of sports in the region and gave the NFL fans here a team to call their own. He was incredibly gracious to me when I purchased the team, and for that I am thankful. Nicole and I extend our deepest condolences to Rosalind, the entire Richardson family, and their loved ones. We wish them much peace and comfort.

Richardson owned the team from its founding until 2018 when he sold the team to Tepper after Sports Illustrated reported allegations of inappropriate workplace conduct by Richardson.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 03: The Jerry Richardson statue before the game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans at Bank of America Stadium on November 03, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Richardson grew up in North Carolina and played two seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts. He used money he earned from winning the 1959 NFL Championship Game to open the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Richardson continued to work in the food service industry until becoming the owner of the Panthers.

“Stephanie & I were saddened to learn of the passing of Jerry Richardson. I will always be grateful to him for the opportunity to coach the Carolina Panthers & for his patient, steadfast leadership during 7 seasons. Condolences to Rosalind, Ashley, & Mark and the Richardson family.”

Former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera

A statue of Richardson stood in front of the Bank of America Stadium from 2016 until 2020 when it was removed by the team out of vandalism concerns.