Mario J. Boiardi, a retired Eastern Shore businessman and son of the Italian-born chef who created the "Chef Boyardee" line of canned foods, died of cancer Saturday at his Queenstown home. He was 81.
Mr. Boiardi - whose last name is pronounced "Boyardee" - was born in Cleveland and raised in Milton, Pa.
His father, Hector J. Boiardi, an Italian immigrant who had been head chef of the Plaza and Ritz-Carlton hotels in New York City, and his mother, Helen, moved to Cleveland in 1917, where they opened a restaurant.
The couple's spaghetti and sauce proved so popular with patrons who requested carry-out orders that they opened a small factory in Cleveland to meet the demand. In 1938, they relocated the operation to Milton.
The nationally marketed products, which later included ravioli and sauce, were originally sold under the name of "Chef Boy-Ar-Dee."
Even though Mr. Boiardi sold the business for an estimated $6 million to American Home Products in 1946, he remained an adviser to the company until the 1970s.
The elder Mr. Boiardi, who died in 1985, appeared in numerous TV commercials advertising Chef Boyardee products during the 1950s and 1960s.
His son was a 1944 graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy and College. During World War II, he served with an Army Ranger unit in Europe, where he was a sharpshooter and attained the rank of lieutenant.
After the war, he attended Case Western Reserve University on the GI Bill, earning a degree in business. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and fought in Korea.
Mr. Boiardi and his father owned a steel mill together in Milton, and later he established Boiardi Products, a marble flooring and tile company, in Paterson, N.J., in 1970.
Mr. Boiardi, who had lived in Greenwich, Conn., and Teaneck, N.J., sold the business in 1990.
During the 1990s, he established Super Step, a research and development firm, that advised new business owners.
"All through his life he had been entrepreneurial, and at his death was semiretired," said his wife of 25 years, the former Maureen Elizabeth Howard.
In the early 1980s, the couple moved to the Eastern Shore, and in 1988, built Penderyn, a 22,512-square-foot mansion on 43 acres facing the Wye River.
"Penderyn is Welsh and means 'the head of the bird,'" Mrs. Boiardi said.
They later sold the estate. Since 1999, they had resided in Queenstown.
Mr. Boiardi enjoyed collecting wine, art and antiques. He liked crabbing, taking long automobile trips, gardening and hiking.
"He also loved to cook and entertain formally. He always dressed in a tie and jacket, and our male guests were required to wear them when we gave dinner parties," Mrs. Boiardi said.
"He was always a perfect gentleman," she said.
"Even though he was a Republican, when we were invited to the White House by Bill Clinton, he said, 'When the president invites you, you go, regardless of your political party. It's an honor,'" she said.
They also had been invited to the White House by President George H.W. Bush, she said.
Plans for services to be held at Arlington National Cemetery were incomplete yesterday.
Also surviving are a son, Mario Boiardi of Washington; a daughter, Chantal Bowman of Boston; two stepsons, Richard Hobbs-Boiardi of San Diego and Anthony Hobbs-Boiardi of Alexandria, Va.; a stepdaughter, Helen Hobbs-Boiardi of South Wales, Great Britain; and eight grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.