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Obituaries

Jack K. Horton; Former Head of Edison

June 14, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack K. Horton, former chairman and chief executive officer of Southern California Edison Co. who championed nuclear power throughout his long career with utility companies, has died at the age of 83.

Horton died June 3 in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure, five days after the death of his wife of 62 years, Betty, officials of what is now Edison International announced this week.

A dedicated leader in the business and education communities, Horton was also a trustee of Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1936, a trustee of USC and a member of the president's board of Pepperdine University.

The Nebraska-born Horton capped his career with 21 years at Edison. He joined the company as president in 1959, added the title chief executive officer in 1965 and was elected chairman of the board in 1968, serving until his retirement in 1980. A company award that is given to employees who risk their lives to perform heroic deeds is named in Horton's honor.

During those high-profile years in the energy business, Horton had to persuade the public and the state Public Utilities Commission to accept a series of rate hikes. He also appeared before congressional committees and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., to debate various plans for the benefit of California consumers.

A strong voice for the utility industry, Horton never hesitated to speak out when he disagreed with editorial views of The Times, particularly on nuclear power. After Times editorials recommended banning future construction of nuclear plants in 1969, Horton disagreed with a detailed letter to the editor.

In a similar letter three years later, he wrote: "We have thoroughly studied nuclear power, beginning in the 1950s with a small pilot plant at Santa Susana, and we believe it to be the cleanest, safest, most reliable source of electricity presently available. It has the advantage of conserving dwindling fossil fuels for better uses than burning under boilers, and what is equally significant--especially in our area--it produces absolutely no smog-forming emissions."

In the hot seat for criticism on the few occasions of mishaps at the company's San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant north of San Diego, Horton urged safety in the nuclear industry and worked quickly to correct any problem that occurred in his own facilities.

Nationally, he was board chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, and worked to regain respect for nuclear power after the disastrous Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania in 1979. The near-meltdown fueled public opposition to nuclear power and made it almost impossible to raise public funds to build new plants or complete partially constructed ones.

Undaunted, Horton told about 2,500 fellow utility executives at the institute's 1980 annual meeting in Chicago that they must "preserve what we no longer have the luxury of calling the nuclear option. It is now the nuclear imperative."

In the broader business community, Horton garnered such respect that he was often named to lead or work on committees investigating charges of corruption. As a member of the board of Lockheed Aircraft Corp., he was named head of a special directors committee to investigate charges that the company had bribed foreign officials. The committee investigation was part of a federal consent decree agreed to by Lockheed and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Horton was also named to a citizens committee to examine the finances of the Los Angeles-area United Way in 1986 after disclosures that more than $330,000 in donations had been loaned to organization executives.

In other community service posts, Horton served on the boards of the Lutheran Hospital Society, which at one time operated four hospitals from Los Angeles to San Diego, the California Museum Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

In 1981, after retirement from Edison, Horton joined other retired executives to work in the Executive Service Corps of Southern California. The volunteer, nonprofit organization charged flat fees as low as $100 to advise and reorganize troubled nonprofit agencies in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties.

"We have two things going for us here," Horton told The Times in 1988 when he was chairman of the group. "One, the great talent pool we have, and two, the flock of nonprofit organizations in Southern California. Sure they need money. But . . . what they need more is management advice. And that we can supply."

Horton worked his way through the Oakland College of Law in the treasury office of Shell Oil Co. He practiced law privately and then joined Standard Oil Co.

From 1944 to 1954, he was with the Coast Counties Gas and Electric Co. Before joining Edison, Horton spent five years as vice president of the San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

He is survived by three children, Judy Magee Horton, Sally Horton Meersman and Harold E. Horton, all of Los Angeles; a brother, Eugene, of Coronado, and five grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be sent to any or all of these three programs: Executive Services Corps, 520 S. Lafayette Park Place No. 210, Los Angeles, CA 90057; the Jack and Betty Horton Rare Book Fund of Doheny Library at USC, Los Angeles, CA 90089, or the Jack and Betty Horton Library Fund at Stanford University, 301 Encino Hall, Stanford, CA 94305.

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