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Robert Stuart, Jr., Former Ambassador to Norway and Quaker Oats CEO, Dies

Stuart, 98, was a long-time Lake Forest resident who was very involved in local, regional and national organizations.

Courtesy of the Stuart Family
Courtesy of the Stuart Family

The following obituary was written by the Stuart family:

Robert D. Stuart, Jr., former Ambassador to Norway, long time chief executive of the Quaker Oats Company, and a leader in civic and business affairs for more than 60 years, died on May 8, 2014 en route from France to the United States with his beloved wife Lillan.  He was 98.  The cause was heart failure. 

Whether it was in business, politics, or philanthropy, Ambassador Stuart’s consistent ambition was to live up to the title of his privately published memoirs: "Making a Difference." By all accounts, he did.

As a young law student at Yale in 1940, Stuart joined with a group of classmates, including Gerald Ford, Potter Stewart and Kingman Brewster--a future U.S. President, Supreme Court Justice and Yale College president--to found the America First Committee, a grass roots organization dedicated to keeping America out of the developing European conflict. At its peak, America First had as many as 800,000 members. 

America First disbanded shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941, and Stuart joined the Army as a field artillery officer.  He served two years overseas and spent most of the time assigned to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) attached to Chief of Staff Bedell Smith.  He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of Major and returned to law school at Yale.

Upon graduation, he joined the Quaker Oats Company, which was co-founded by his grandfather Robert Stuart and led at the time by his father R. Douglas Stuart and uncle John Stuart.  He spent 38 years at Quaker, the last 15 as chief executive, and during  his tenure pushed to diversify the company beyond oatmeal and cereal brands and to expand its international presence.   Two themes animated his leadership:  a belief in the power of strong brands and the certainty that corporations like Quaker had a duty both to their shareholders and to the communities in which they lived and operated.  From the time he became president in 1962 to his stepping down in 1984 to join the diplomatic corps, sales grew from $365 million to more than $3 billion.

Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Norway

As Ronald Regan’s ambassador to Norway from 1984 to 1989, Stuart followed in the tradition of his father, who was the American ambassador to Canada in the mid-1950s. The younger Stuart served in the waning years of the Cold War, when Norway’s location north of the Barents Sea and its proximity to the former Soviet Union was of great strategic relevance both to the United States and to NATO and occasioned intelligence gathering “listening posts” and periodic below-the-radar jousting between U.S. and Soviet submarines.  

In the face of considerable skepticism from Norwegians, Stuart gamely promoted President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, more familiarly known as “Star Wars,” earning the respect of the diplomatic and political community even as they disagreed with the U.S. policy he was promoting.   He fell in love with Norway, as did his wife Barbara, and they both enjoyed a wide circle of friends.  The feeling was apparently mutual, as the Norwegian press termed Ambassador Stuart “en flink gutt”—a good guy.

Robert D. Stuart, Jr. was born in 1916 Hubbard Woods, Illinois and grew up in Lake Forest, just north of his birthplace.  His mother, Harriet McClure Stuart, was the daughter of James Gore King McClure, a Presbyterian minister who also served as the president of Lake Forest College.  Both Rev. McClure and his parents were powerful role models, impressing upon young Stuart and his three sisters Anne, Margaret and Harriet, the importance of public service.  All of them went on to significant leadership roles in the public and private sectors in their respective communities.

Stuart graduated from the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, later the site that housed Robert Oppenheimer and a team of scientists who built the first atomic bomb, and then Princeton University in 1937, where he earned a degree in politics and was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps or ROTC and deeply engaged with The Daily Princetonian and a wide assortment of other campus activities.

In 1938, he married the former Barbara Edwards from Syracuse, NY.  They had five children, three of whom survive him. His wife died in 1993, and two years later, he married Lillan Løvenskiold, a Norwegian whom he had met during his time as ambassador, who along with her late husband, had been close friends.  She was the second great love of his life.

Amb. Stuart’s business, civic and political engagements were extensive.  For many years, he was a trustee of Princeton University.  At various times he also served as a director of United Airlines, the Burlington Northern Railroad, the First National Bank of Chicago (now J.P. Morgan Chase), Deere and Company, and Molson Companies, Ltd. of Canada. Equally important were his commitments to the community including the Millennium Park Project in Chicago and the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest. 

A life long Republican, he served as National Committeeman from Illinois and Finance Chair in Illinois for the Reagan campaign, among many assignments.  A particular source of pride was his founding in 1962 of the Lake County Republican Federation, reflecting his long-standing belief in the importance of local politics.  As he frequently said, “There’s a great fascination with the eagles flying over Washington, but it’s the ducks back home that are pecking us to death.” 

Serving Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton

Public service called again upon his return from Norway.  First, President George H.W. Bush  in 1991 and then President Clinton  in 1993 nominated him for Defense Base Case Closure and Realignment Commission, a non-partisan group whose delicate and politically charged assignment was to evaluate those military bases that might have outlived their usefulness. 

Amb. Stuart always took the long view and had the knack for seeing opportunities where others didn’t—particularly in real estate.  He was enormously proud in the fall of 2013 when Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest was on the national stage, hosting its first professional golf tournament, the BMW Championship, on land that he and his partners had acquired in the late 1950s.

As his political and business interests wound down, Amb. Stuart focused on philanthropy, founding a family foundation that supported research and advocacy on a variety of public policy issues including civic education, campaign finance reform and national security—all with an eye towards making a difference.  

Away from the public sphere, he was happiest at the family ranch in Wyoming, surrounded by those he loved across four generations, or at his wife Lillan’s home in Norway, where he enjoyed visits with his extended Norwegian family.

Ambassador Stuart is survived by his wife Lillan, sister Margaret, his son James M. Stuart and wife Dianne, daughter Marian S. Pillsbury, son Alexander D. Stuart and wife Robin, daughter-in-law Nancy M. Stuart, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and numerous Norwegian step-children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He adored them all, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

A memorial service will be held at 3:00 PM on Saturday, May 17th at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest or Princeton University.

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