George Grune

Grune, George
George Vincent Grune 1929-2013 a former 30 year resident of Westport but most recently of Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, died peacefully on April 17th of complications following open heart surgery after a short stay in the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic Hospital, three months before his 84th birthday, surrounded by his loving family. He was a beloved husband, father and grandfather; dear friend and highly respected business leader. George was born and raised in White Plains, N.Y. He graduated from White Plains High School where he excelled in football, basketball and track. He was inducted into the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. He attended Duke University on a full football scholarship. It was there he met his wife of 60 years, Betty Lu. George played football for four years at Duke, earning All-State North Carolina and ATO All-American in 1951. In addition to football, he was chairman of the Student Judicial Board, editor of the Duke literary magazine, The Archive, member of ODK national honorary leadership fraternity, member of ATO fraternity, along with many other activities. He graduated from Duke University in 1952 with a BA in English, later served as a trustee of the board of the University for 10 years, and then as a permanent trustee emeritus. He received an honorary Phi Beta Kappa degree from Duke in 1995. After graduation from Duke, George joined the United States Marine Corps where he actively served for two years before completing two years of law school at the University of Florida. He continued in the Reserves, being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1964 as a captain. George received the Colonel I. Robert Kriendler Memorial Award from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation in 1992. George and his wife Betty Lu raised their three sons in Westport, Conn. He worked briefly for the Continental Can Company before going to work for The Reader's Digest Association in 1960 as an advertising salesman. He quickly was selected to manage key offices in Pittsburgh, New York and internationally, distinguishing himself not only in sales but also as a proponent of research and strategic planning and as a marketing innovator and great communicator. He was responsible for the creation of the Carolyn Davis and Food Marketing features in the flagship magazine. Over the years, George worked in the books and recorded music division, international business and most other areas of the company before being named to the board of directors in 1977 and chairman and CEO in 1984. When he took over, the company was in financial trouble. George rebuilt Reader's Digest under a "back to basics" banner, developing its first strategic plan, hiring experts in management information and financial systems, and presenting the company as a contemporary global publisher. By 1990 the U.S. and international Reader's Digest companies were celebrating record profits and the company was included in Fortune magazine's "Most Admired" list. This management record foreshadowed the company's board of directors' action in 1997 when George was brought back for nine months as acting CEO two years after his retirement in 1995 to again rebuild the company after a series of financial setbacks. Historic events during George's leadership as CEO included the company's going public in 1990 and its expansion into Russia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic right after the breakup of the Soviet Union. While "global" was beginning to be a buzzword in business circles, Reader's Digest already was operating as a vast global publisher and direct mail marketer. George oversaw the flagship magazine of 39 editions in 15 languages read by more than 100 million people in 197 countries every month, a worldwide book publishing business in 10 languages and 19 countries, a growing home entertainment operation and a stable of new special-interest magazines. George was a practicing believer in the "give something back" philosophy - not just in money but also in time. Among his favorite personal charities were local YMCAs in New Brunswick, N.J., Pittsburgh, Pa. and Westport, Conn., the National Outward Bound board, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America where he served on their local boards before becoming their national chairman in the early 1990s. Since his retirement and move to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., George has served on the board of directors of the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and has been a major benefactor of the Players by the Sea Community Theater. In addition to his corporate responsibilities at Reader's Digest, George was chairman of the Wallace Funds, philanthropic foundations created by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the founders of the company, to benefit education, youth, arts and culture. He also was chairman of the boards of the individual foundations the Wallaces created to support major institutions like the New York Zoological Society, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Colonial Williamsburg and Macalester College in Minnesota. He served on the corporate boards of Avon, Best Foods, Chase Manhattan Bank and Federated Department Stores, and on the James Madison National Council of the Library of Congress. Throughout his career, George was awarded scores of local, national and international awards for his business expertise and philanthropic leadership. They included being named Publisher of the Year by the Magazine Publishers of America, and receiving the National Medal of Arts from the White House and the Herbert Hoover Humanitarian Award from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In 1990, President Bush appointed George to be a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He also received honors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Institut de France Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the USO of Metropolitan New York, the Historic Hudson Valley preservation organization and others. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Rollins College in 1991, where he also served as a trustee of the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business. Throughout his lifetime, George was a member of multiple civic, cultural and sports clubs in Pittsburgh, Connecticut, New York and Washington, D.C. including the Pittsburgh Field Club, Fairfield County Hunt Club, Patterson Club, Union League Club, New York Athletic Club and Alfalfa Club. He was elected to the American Society of Corporate Executives in 1990. An avid golfer, he was a past member of Augusta National Golf Club and, since moving to the Jacksonville area, had enjoyed membership in The Ponte Vedra Club, TPC, Sawgrass Club, Pablo Creek and The River Club. In addition to golf, he remained a passionate football fan and was an original season ticket holder of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is survived by his wife, Betty Lu, three sons and daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren: George, Jr. and Judy Grune with children Heather, Lindsey, and George III; Robert and Joan Grune with children Alexandra, Robert, Jr., and Jordan; and Steven and Nancy Grune with children Steven, Jr., Natalie and Kevin. George had been and Betty Lu continues to be a member of the Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. and George also regularly enjoyed early Sunday services at the Sawgrass Beach Chapel. Services will be held at Palms Presbyterian Church today, Wednesday, April 24th at 11 am, with a reception following. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the National Boys and Girls Clubs of America at 1275 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309-3506 or online at or to the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra at 300 Water St., Suite 200, Jacksonville, FL 32202 or online at Please visit our online Tribute at Services under the direction and care of Quinn-Shalz Family Funeral Home, Jacksonville Beach, FL.

Published in StamfordAdvocate on Apr. 24, 2013