Bruce L. Cleland, retired president and CEO of Campbell & Co. and a co-founder with his wife of the Orokawa Foundation, died of head and neck cancer Friday at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. The Ruxton resident was 73.
“I first met Bruce when I was vice chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and when he was first diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago. He became my mentor and my closest friend, and I’m where I am today because I sought the advice of Bruce Cleland,” said Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System.
“It was a 16-year journey and for the majority of the time he was well, and it was the way he defined the challenge and the way he chose to fight the fight. He focused on those around him, and he made an impact on countless lives of people he never met. It was the same with his philanthropy, which was to make lives better as he was going through his own personal challenge.”
John K. Hoey, president of the Y of Central Maryland, had been a close friend since 2006.
“For a person who was professionally successful, bright and accomplished, he was the most unassuming person I’ve ever met. He was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t dress up. He’d come to my office wearing shorts and a T-shirt and here was a guy who had all the resources you can imagine,” Mr. Hoey said.
“Bruce drove a beat-up old station wagon until he purchased a Prius. He didn’t need to show his success. He was a very private person who didn’t want his name on things, and was very loyal to people and very genuine.”
Bruce Lester Cleland, son of Jack Cleland, founder and owner of Jets Transport, a moving company, and his wife, Isabel Cleland, a homemaker, was born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand, where he graduated in 1965 from Hutt Valley High School.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Victoria University of Wellington, Mr. Cleland traveled the world until finally settling in London, where he started his financial market career working for Rudolf Wolff & Co., a commodity trading business.
He later worked in the company’s office in Düsseldorf, Germany, until 1976 when he moved to New York City and headed the company’s North America operation. In 1993, he was named president and CEO of Campbell & Co., a Towson-based commodity trading advisory firm, where he continued working until he retired in 2012.
Congruently, Mr. Cleland was deeply involved with several philanthropic endeavors that he led.
While living in Rye, New York, the Clelands’ daughter, Georgia, had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in March 1986.
“That was one of the tough days,” Mr. Cleland told The Baltimore Sun in a 2012 interview. “In my ill-informed mind, it meant death.”
In 1988, he gathered a team of 38 runners to participate in the New York City Marathon.
Mr. Cleland got a fellow New Zealander, Rod Dixon, winner of the 1983 New York City Marathon, to train the runners for the next 10 months.
“They meet in a church hall for their first workout. But it’s a sorry-looking bunch: a lot of fatsos, a lot of folks with creaking joints and God knows what other issues,” The Sun reported.
They raised $320,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society while honoring his daughter, a leukemia survivor.
Known as the Team In Training or TNT, the charitable endurance sports initiative has raised more than $1.5 billion for blood cancer research in partnership with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is the largest voluntary health organization in the world whose mission is to fund blood cancer research, education and patient services.
So successful was the first event, the Leukemia Society asked Mr. Cleland to replicate the Team in Training concept for other leukemia chapters across the nation, which later “sweeps the nation,” reported the newspaper.
Eventually, his daughter regained her health, and in 2011, Georgia, 28, who was working for the Leukemia Society as an operations assistant and receptionist, called her father and said she was going to run in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida.
In 2006, he and his wife of 44 years, the former Isobel “Izzi” McCowan, whom he had met while working in London, established The Orokawa Foundation. The Towson-based group assists the less fortunate with housing, education and other needs.
Mr. Cleland first became aware of the Y when he was growing up in New Zealand, Mr. Hoey said.
“I came to the Y of Central Maryland from the private sector and Bruce had long been a supporter of the Y,” and everyone told me I had to meet him, and it remains to this day one of the most memorable meetings I’ve ever had,” he said. “Bruce became a tremendous friend and a huge supporter of the Y and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met.”
Mr. Hoey said “spending time with Bruce was like defending your dissertation.”
“He forced you to defend your arguments that you were making, and it could be intimidating but I enjoyed it,” he said. “He was doing it out of a posture of support. He made you think.”
Even though he had retired from business, Mr. Cleland remained active in portfolio management and venture capital investments, family members said.
Mr. Cleland led an active lifestyle that included sailing, kayaking, camping and daily workouts at his “beloved Orokawa Y,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.
“Bruce loved the game of rugby, was an avid tennis player and golfer, adored his vegetable garden, and was even known to strum a tune or two on the guitar without too much convincing,” the profile stated.
“Cancer focused him. He was the toughest person you’d ever met and in life, he subjected himself to things others wanted to avoid, and that’s the way he fought cancer,” Mr. Hoey said. “To the end, he remained fiercely optimistic, and when you asked him how he was he’d always say, ‘I’m fine,’ and then turn the conversation back. This is a tremendous loss for our community for a guy who came from New Zealand and adopted Baltimore in a very serious way. This will be his life’s legacy.”
Said Dr. Suntha: “Bruce was warm, engaging, and it was Bruce Cleland who defined the center of the room no matter where he was standing. His love of people was great because he was the center of that room. His journey was a long one, but an inspiring one.”
Plans for a memorial gathering to be held in the fall are incomplete.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Cleland is survived by two sons, James T. Cleland of Boulder, Colorado, and Mark M. Cleland of Boston; two daughters, Georgia I. Cleland and Samantha F. Manekin, both of Ruxton; two brothers, Norman Cleland of Australia and Richard Cleland of New Zealand; a sister, Alison Lea of Australia; and four grandchildren.