Leonard H. Straus, cultural leader and philanthropist who was the colorful longtime head of Thrifty Corp., has died at the age of 83.
Straus, an advisor and fund-raiser for several major universities and a founder of the Los Angeles County Music Center and Museum of Art, died Wednesday at his Beverly Hills home of a massive heart attack. He had suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
As chairman, Straus engineered the drugstore chain's merger with Pacific Lighting in 1986, which one admiring observer called "the biggest coup since the Louisiana Purchase." At the time, the chain had 555 drugstores and the Big 5 sports equipment chain. Straus, in his more than 45 years with the company, directed most of its growth.
A native of New York City who was educated at Rutgers University and Harvard law school, Straus came to California in 1940 to serve as best man at the wedding of his former Rutgers roommate, film producer Ray Stark. The producer lined up dates for Straus with nine starlets on nine nights, and on the 10th, with Dorothy Borun, whose family owned the Thrifty chain.
"I fell in love with her, and with California, and realized that I could play tennis 12 months a year," Straus told The Times in 1986. So he moved here--after serving in the Coast Guard during World War II--and went to work for Thrifty in 1945. His first assignment was acquiring locations for new stores, and he quickly demonstrated a knack for finance and real estate, creating high-volume branches.
He was named Thrifty secretary in 1948, vice president in 1951, a director in 1953, president and chief executive officer in 1957, chairman and CEO in 1979, and chairman emeritus at his retirement in 1991.
Known for his humorous, folksy style at Thrifty annual meetings, Straus often led his mostly elderly shareholders in singing "The Thrifty Fight Song" to the tune of Notre Dame's anthem. Unusual for the head of such a large corporation, the handsome and crusty Straus personally handled company public relations.
Straus was also a trustee of Pepperdine University, was on UCLA's Board of Visitors and governance board for its Medical Center and School of Medicine, on Harvard's dean's advisory council and on the USC School of Business board of councilors. He raised funds for and donated generously to each of those universities.
An avid lifelong tennis player, Straus led the drive to fund and build the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA, used for the 1984 Olympics.
He served as president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Associates and as a board member of the Los Angeles and the California Chambers of Commerce. In business circles, he was also on boards of the statewide Employers Group, the National Retail Federation, California Business Round Table and Better Business Bureau of the Southland.
He was a member of the boards of KCET, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, American Red Cross, Greater L.A. Visitors and Convention Bureau, William H. Parker Los Angeles Police Foundation, Los Angeles Sports Council, Southern California Tennis Assn., National Conference of Christians and Jews, American Heart Assn., Children's Bureau Foundation, Autry Western Heritage Museum and Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic.
Straus is survived by his wife, Dorothy Borun Straus; two daughters, Linda Lewis and Barbara Straus Lodge, both of Los Angeles, and three grandchildren.
Services will be private.