AVERY ISLAND, La. (CBS Houston/AP) — Paul C.P. McIlhenny, chief executive and chairman of the board of the McIlhenny Co. that makes the trademarked line of Tabasco hot pepper sauces sold the world over, has died of a heart attack. He was 68.
The company, based on south Louisiana’s Avery Island, said in a statement that McIlhenny had died Saturday. The statement, released Sunday, credited McIlhenny’s leadership with introducing several new varieties of hot sauces sold under the Tabasco brand and with greatly expanding their global reach.
McIlhenny was a member of a storied clan whose 145-year-old company has been producing the original world-famous Tabasco sauce for several generations, since shortly after the Civil War. The statement said McIlhenny joined the company in 1967 and directly oversaw production and quality of all products sold under the brand for 13 years.
Under his management, the company experienced years of record growth in sales and earnings, according to the company.
McIlhenny also worked to develop an array of items that could be marketed and emblazoned with the Tabasco logo: T-shirts, aprons, neckties, stuffed toy bears, and computer screensavers, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans noted. The newspaper first reported the death and noted that McIlhenny was an executive with a keen sense of humor, quipping days before he reigned as Rex, the King of Carnival, for Mardi Gras in 2006: “We’re defending the world against bland food.”
The Times-Picayune said he had taken up the post of company president starting in 1998 before adding the title of CEO two years later. It added that his cousin, Tony Simmons, took over as president last year.
“All of McIlhenny Company and the McIlhenny and Avery families are deeply saddened by this news,” said Tony Simmons, president of McIlhenny Company and a McIlhenny family member, in the company’s statement.
He added: “We will clearly miss Paul’s devoted leadership but will more sorely feel the loss of his acumen, his charm and his irrepressible sense of humor.”
The statement said McIlhenny led the way on new brand merchandising, taking an instrumental role in the company’s catalog business of licensed merchandise. He also was a driving force behind the growing global reach of Tabasco products, today sold in more than 165 countries and territories.
The company said McIlhenny, at the time of his death, was also a company director. He was a sixth-generation member of the family to live on Avery Island and among the fourth generation to produce the Tabasco brand sauce on Avery Island, where patriarch Edmund McIlhenny had founded the company in 1868.
Born on March 19, 1944, he grew up in New Orleans and spent much of his childhood moving between New Orleans the family compound on Avery Island, according to The Times-Picayune.
Reports noted he also had been an impassioned board member of America’s Wetland Foundation because of his longtime interest in preserving south Louisiana coastlines crumbling under the onslaught of decades of erosion.
Attorney Edward Abell called his friend McIlhenny “a well-known figure.”
“It really kind of puts us on the map here,” Abell said, “because the Tabasco products are known all over the world.”
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