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Subject: John Milton Tassie, 86, Chief Executive of Lenox

New Jersey
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Date Posted: November 29, 2002 2:31:29 EDT

John Milton Tassie, a former chief executive who helped build New Jersey-based Lenox Inc. into an international source of fine china, crystal and sterling, died Monday at a hospital in Princeton, N.J.. He was 86 and lived in Princeton.

Mr. Tassie, who spent 35 years with the company, which is in Lawrenceville, led it as chief executive from 1959 to 1977. He retired as a director and chairman of its finance committee in 1980. (Lenox is now a subsidiary of the Brown-Forman Corporation of Louisville.)

Lenox was founded in 1889 by Walter Scott Lenox as a ceramic art studio in Trenton. It was chosen in 1918 to supply the china for formal White House dinners and has created elegant table settings for presidents, vice presidents and American ambassadors abroad ever since.

Under Mr. Tassie, the company broadened its sights through market research, advertising and its first national sales force. The Lenox brand grew into a family standby for quality home products, jewelry, gifts and collectibles. Its line now includes flatware and leather goods, like business cases.

Formerly a family-owned craft operation, Lenox expanded to 14 subsidiaries and increased its market share, particularly in fine china. It joined the Fortune 1000, and Mr. Tassie took the company public in 1963. (It now has 4,000 employees and produces $550 million in annual sales.)

John Tassie, a native Californian, graduated from Princeton in 1939. He joined Lenox as an assistant plant manager in 1942, when the company turned to war production with its translucent ivory china, which proved ideal for ship instrumentation. Its craftsmen developed an even tougher ceramic, Lenoxite, for the military's insulators and resistors, and for other uses in radar and electronics.

Mr. Tassie was promoted to general manager in 1943. He became executive vice president in 1948, president and chief executive in 1959, and chairman and C.E.O. in 1974, the positions he held until 1977.

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Ellen Summers Tassie; two sons and five daughters from his earlier marriage to the late Margaret Brogan Tassie: John M. Jr. of Orlando, Fla., and Mark, of Yardley, Pa.; Margaret Boveroux and Hope Tassie of Pennington, N.J., Sara Boyd of Basalt, Colo., Gina Ughetta of New Canaan, Conn., and Suzanne Grossman of Charlottesville, Va.; 17 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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