Gordon McGovern, 87, Pepperidge Farm president
McGovern, Richard Gordon, 87, of South Kingstown, RI, and formerly of Ridgefield passed away on Tuesday, August 19, 2014, at home.
Long after retiring as president of Pepperidge Farm and Campbell Soup, Gordon McGovern straightened shelves of bread and soup cans in grocery stores, and hardly a visitor left his home without a bag of cookies.
Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1926 to James and Marion (Stritzinger) McGovern, Richard Gordon McGovern graduated cum laude from Brown University in 1948 and received his MBA from Harvard in 1950. Starting as a management trainee sweeping floors for Pepperidge Farm, McGovern was named president of the company in 1968. He became Chief Executive Officer of the parent company, Campbell Soup, in 1980, and retired in December 1989. At both companies McGovern gained national recognition for the introduction of innovative products, including the 100% Natural Soup line.
McGovern’s business drive was fueled by a voracious curiosity. He travelled far and wide, hitch-hiking cross-country as a high school student and leading his grandchildren through the countrysides of France and Ireland. He read just as widely, as happy to pick up People magazine as he would a history of World War II naval battles. (McGovern served as a navy radar officer during the Korean War and in later years was very proud to wear his USS Arnold J. Isbell hat). He would shop for groceries in towns he visited, often discussing products and displays with the store manager. He took great pleasure each day working the daily crossword puzzles with Judy, his wife of 59 years, looking up obscure clues in his vast array of almanacs and reference books.
A strong believer in education, McGovern gave generous support to universities, libraries and schools. He received an honorary doctorate from Johnson and Wales University, was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi scholastic honor societies, was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, and served on the boards of Wheaton College and the Wooster School. His family field trips and dinner table quizzes on geography and current events are remembered by his four children and their many school friends.
Family croquet matches capped a life-long love of sports. McGovern was a state-ranked tennis player in high school, and was on the pitcher’s mound at Williams College when VJ day was declared in 1945.
A modest man of deep moral conviction, McGovern was proud of his record of never closing a production plant at Pepperidge Farm and Campbell Soup. For years, he folded his 6’4” frame into his beloved yellow Volkswagen beetle for his corporate commute. An avid vegetable gardener, McGovern liked to plant new crops to challenge his green thumb.
Gordon McGovern died at his home in Green Hill Beach, Rhode Island, on August 19, cared for by Judy and by his children. He is survived by daughters Lucinda McGovern, Jennifer McGovern and husband Steve Unruhe, and Mindy McGovern and husband Mark Fuller, son Douglas McGovern and wife Galen McGovern, and ten grandchildren: Molly Thomson, Seth Procter, Katherine Mae Unruhe, Mark Procter, Rebecca Procter, Hannah Fuller, Michael McGovern, Matthew McGovern, Graham Fuller and Daniel McGovern. His death was preceded by the deaths of his brothers Lane and Bruce McGovern.
The family will hold a private ceremony. Persons wishing to make memorial contributions are directed to the Rhode Island Food Bank, the South Kingstown Land Trust, Home and Hospice Care of Rhode Island, or a charity of choice.