Robert D. Stuart Jr., former CEO of Quaker Oats, dies

Robert D. Stuart Jr. was a grandson of one of the founders of Quaker Oats Co. and third-generation leader of the company, shifting the focus during his long tenure as CEO from cereal-making to brand management and marketing while also overseeing acquisitions that included Fisher-Price.

"He managed the transition of the company from operations, sales and manufacturing to a much more modern brand marketing-oriented company," said Bill Smithburg, who joined Quaker as a brand manager and succeeded Mr. Stuart as CEO.

A staunch Republican, Mr. Stuart was finance chair for Ronald Reagan's campaign in Illinois and was named by Reagan the ambassador to Norway in 1984, a post he held until 1989.

Mr. Stuart, 98, died of heart failure Thursday, May 8, while en route from France to the U.S. with his wife, Lillan, according to his son, Alexander. He grew up in Lake Forest and lived there for most of his life.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in politics from Princeton University, Mr. Stuart went on to Yale Law School. There he joined a group of classmates, including future President Gerald Ford, in starting the America First Committee, which was aimed at keeping the U.S. out of the developing war in Europe.

The committee, which counted as supporters and leaders prominent figures including Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick and Sears, Roebuck & Co. Chairman Robert Wood, disbanded soon after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Stuart, who had been a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps while at Princeton, soon joined the Army as a field artillery officer and served two years overseas.

He left the Army in 1946 and returned to Yale. After graduation, he joined Quaker, the start of a 38-year career. His father, R. Douglas Stuart, was president and later vice chairman of the company and was appointed ambassador to Canada by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.

Mr. Stuart became company president in 1962 and CEO in 1966. He left the company in 1984.

Smithburg, who joined Quaker in 1966, said Mr. Stuart was an inclusive leader who managed to maintain what he called Quaker's "warm family feel" even as he moved the company in a new direction.

"He walked the halls, he talked to everybody, he listened to everybody's ideas," Smithburg said. "He was a very open-minded guy."

Mr. Stuart's tenure as a diplomat in Norway came at the tail end of the Cold War, when the Scandinavian country's proximity to the soon-to-be dissolved Soviet Union gave it special strategic importance.

His challenges included trying to convince skeptical Norwegians of the merits of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, sometimes labeled "Star Wars." Whatever his success in promoting SDI, he loved Norway and its people and had a wide circle of friends there.

After returning from Norway, Mr. Stuart continued his public service after he was nominated to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, first by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and again in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The commission's politically sensitive job was to evaluate military bases that might have outlived their usefulness.

For many years, Mr. Stuart was a trustee of Princeton. He was also a director for companies including United Airlines, what was then First National Bank of Chicago and Deere & Co.

Mr. Stuart's first wife, Barbara, died in 1993. In 1995, he married the former Lillan Lovenskiold, a Norwegian who with her late husband had been friends of the Stuarts in Norway.

Other survivors include a daughter, Marian Pillsbury; another son, James; a sister, Margaret Stuart Hart; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a number of Norwegian stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, 700 N. Sheridan Road, Lake Forest.

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