George Washington Woods III, 79, formerly of Exton, a quality-control expert and groundbreaking entrepreneur, died Sunday, Dec. 5, of heart failure at his home in Coatesville.

In 1994, Mr. Woods established USA Environmental Management Inc. The company, an asbestos and lead-paint removal firm, was launched with the assistance of a Small Business Administration program. The SBA helped him compete for government contracts and allowed him to establish a line of credit with a local bank. Previously, he had unsuccessfully struggled to secure financing.

Even with SBA assistance, Mr. Woods told The Inquirer in 2000, he initially channeled almost all his personal money into the business and did not start paying himself a salary until 1997.

He received the Small Business Association of Philadelphia's Minority Enterprise Development Award for 2000. That year, USA Environmental had 34 employees and projected $4 million in revenue. The firm's clients included the Navy, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and SEPTA.

At the time, Mr. Woods said that he was approaching his 70th birthday and that he planned to reduce his role in his company. But his daughter Carolyn told The Inquirer: "He can't stop. He used to tell me when I was a kid: 'If Daddy comes home, you know I'm sick.' " He finally retired in 2007.

Mr. Woods grew up in New Bern, N.C., the oldest of six children. As a teen, he made money picking tobacco. In high school, he learned masonry and worked as a bricklayer to pay for college.

After earning a bachelor's degree from St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., he taught chemistry and was an assistant football and basketball coach in a high school in Rocky Mount, N.C.

From 1954 to 1956, he served in the Army Signal Corps and was assigned to a unit working with the Strategic Air Command in England.

While in the Army, he met another soldier also named George Woods, who told him about a new field called quality control.

After his discharge, Mr. Woods went to work for S. Obermayer, a foundry-supply company in Chicago, and at night earned a master's degree in business administration from Roosevelt University. When Obermayer was sold to Combustion Engineering, he stayed with the new firm as a quality-assurance manager.

He met his future wife, Gertrude Ivey, in Chicago, and they married in 1959.

In 1972, Combustion Engineering transferred Mr. Woods to Philadelphia, and the family moved to Chester County.

"Our whole environment changes," Gertrude Woods told The Inquirer in 2000. "Suddenly, we were the only black family in our church. My husband was the only black executive in his company. It was kind of a schizophrenic existence."

Despite experiencing some racism, the Woodses adjusted to their surroundings, and in 1982, when Combustion Engineering's new owners moved its offices to Ohio, Mr. Woods chose to leave the company and the family stayed in Chester County.

Mr. Woods was active with numerous civic organizations, including the Rotary, the NAACP, Atkinson Community Health Center in Coatesville, and the Ben Franklin High School Business Resource Network in Philadelphia. He was a mentor at the Chester County Prison and for the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and was presented with the keys to the City of West Chester for his commitment to the community.

He enjoyed fishing, golf, Sudoku, bowling, gardening, and travel, especially to North Carolina. In August, he and his wife sailed on a Caribbean cruise with their children and grandchildren.

In addition to his wife, Gertrude Woods and daughter Carolyn Woods, Mr. Woods is survived by sons Gregory and Gerald; daughter Celestine Wright; a brother; three sisters; and two grandchildren.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1105 E. Lincoln Highway, Exton, where Mr. Woods was a former vestry member. Friends may call from 9 a.m. Burial will be in Philadelphia Memorial Park, Frazer.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.