PITTSBURGH — Henry John Heinz II, veteran chairman of H. J. Heinz Co. and grandson of the founder of that food empire, has died in Florida at the age of 78.
In a brief statement, company spokesman Mike Kelly said Heinz died Monday at the family's winter home in Hobe Sound, Fla., after a short illness. Kelly said he had no further information about the nature of the illness.
Heinz, father of U.S. Sen. H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.), was the grandson of Henry J. Heinz, who founded the international food-processing company in 1869.
After working as a handyman, pickle-sorter, bookkeeper and at other odd jobs in the company, he spent a quarter-century as its chief executive, beginning in 1941. His tenure spanned an era of sweeping changes in the food industry marked by the emergence of supermarket chains and the development of new distribution and marketing systems.
In 1935, Heinz, fresh out of Cambridge University in England, was dispatched by his father, then-chairman Howard C. Heinz, to Australia to establish a new manufacturing plant. Heinz-Australia eventually became that country's biggest food processor.
Heinz further extended the company's famous "57 Varieties" sobriquet into the international arena when he launched subsidiaries in the Netherlands, Venezuela, Japan, Italy and Portugal.
The hallmark of his tenure, however, was a series of acquisitions that included Star-Kist Foods Inc. and Ore-Ida Foods Inc., each of which has since been a top performer.
Heinz resigned as chief executive officer and president of the company in 1966, turning over the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business to R. Burt Goodkin.
A lifelong Republican, Heinz was chairman of the U.S. Council of the International Chamber of Commerce from 1948 to 1951. In 1954, he was asked by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as chief of a special mission to assess an emergency program of economic aid to Pakistan.
He was chairman of the U.S. Delegation of the Economic Commission for Europe in 1958 and 1959.
Heinz spent several months each year in Great Britain, and in 1979 Queen Elizabeth II invested him as an Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, citing him "for significant contribution in the furtherance of British-American relationships, especially in the cultural, educational and economic fields." He also received decorations from Greece, France and Italy.
He also served as chairman of the Howard Heinz Endowment, established by his father's will. As chairman, he directed the disbursement of more than $300 million in grants to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania organizations in the arts, social services, health, education and urban and international affairs.
In addition to his son, Heinz is survived by his wife, Drue, and two stepdaughters.