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Subject: Peter Stroh, Ex-Chairman of Brewery

dead at 74
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Date Posted: September 19, 2002 6:50:41 EDT

Peter W. Stroh, a former chairman of the Stroh Brewing Company, died on Tuesday at his home in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan from brain cancer, said his cousin John Stroh III.

Mr. Stroh was a philanthropist and conservationist whose family fortune was built on decades of selling modestly priced beer to working-class customers in the Midwest. From the company's headquarters in Detroit, Mr. Stroh engineered a series of acquisitions in the 1980's as he tried to remake the company into a national power.

Mr. Stroh's company failed in the two fast-growing niches of an industry that was otherwise stagnating: light beer and the so-called superpremium segment. As brewing giants like Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors developed strong national brands, Stroh's fell ever farther behind.

In 1999, two years after Mr. Stroh retired, the company sold its breweries and brands to Miller and Pabst, another big beer maker, for about $400 million.

"Along with Peter Coors and August Busch, Peter Stroh was really one of the last great family brewers," Michael C. Bellas, chairman of the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a research and consulting company in New York, said in an interview. "Stroh's really had trouble building the national brands it needed to compete."

Mr. Stroh did not originally want to join the family business, which was founded in 1850 in Detroit by his great-grandfather. After graduating from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire in 1945 and from Princeton University in 1951, Mr. Stroh was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Stroh spent a year in Washington waiting for security clearance. Three days after his final clearance was approved, Mr. Stroh's legs were crushed by a truck in a Washington intersection. He spent a year in a hospital and limped for the rest of his life.

Unable to join the C.I.A. because of his injury, Mr. Stroh returned to Detroit. He joined the brewing company in 1952 and became a director in 1965, soon after he married the former Nicole Elisabeth Fauquet-Lemaitre.

Mr. Stroh is survived by his wife; two sons, Pierre, of Grosse Pointe Farms, and Frederic, of Washington, D.C.; a brother, Eric, of Grosse Pointe Farms; and one grandchild.

Mr. Stroh became the company's chief executive in 1980 and its chairman in 1982.

Soon after Mr. Stroh joined the company's highest ranks, it began to acquire other big brewers. The company bought the F&M Schaefer Brewing Company in 1981 and it acquired the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company the next year.

By 1985, however, it was clear that Mr. Stroh's company was overextended. Faced with excess capacity, the company closed its 71-year-old Detroit brewery that year. In 1989, the company agreed to sell to Coors, but that deal fell apart. A decade later, the Stroh Brewing Company ceased to exist with the deal to sell to Miller and Pabst.

In the 1980's and 1990's, Mr. Stroh's family contributed about $150 million to a project to revitalize Detroit's riverfront. An ardent hunter and fly fisherman, Mr. Stroh was a founding board member of Conservation International and served on the boards of the Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society and the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

Mr. Stroh once said that he was "pampered" as a child. After he graduated from St. Paul's, he spent a year in a Navy training program and then waited in Detroit for a year as he worked his way up Princeton's waiting list.

"I wanted to unload relief supplies in Yugoslavia. I wanted to work on a tramp steamer bound for Argentina, train polo ponies in Texas," he once told The Detroit News. "But I couldn't get my parents' permission."

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