May 27, 2010

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Robert L. McNeil Jr., pharmaceutical executive

Robert Lincoln McNeil Jr., 94, a chemist who transformed his family’s Kensington pharmacy into a major pharmaceutical firm and launched the best-selling painkiller Tylenol, died of heart failure May 20 at his home in Wyndmoor.

Together with his father, Robert Lincoln McNeil, and his brother, Henry, Mr. McNeil expanded the family retail business founded by his grandfather Robert McNeil into McNeil Laboratories, now a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary based in Fort Washington.

As the first member of McNeil’s research department, Mr. McNeil spearheaded development of the Butisol family of drugs and, anticipating the worldwide demand for non-aspirin pain relievers, led the team that created Tylenol, including conceiving of the name acetaminophen, the generic term for the drug.

The drug was discovered by a Charles Gerhardt, a French chemist, in 1852, but it remained in obscurity until the 1940s, when it was documented by British researchers as safe and effective for relieving pain and fever.

With the growth of McNeil Laboratories, Mr. McNeil was named chairman of the board and senior officer. Aware that a privately held, medium-sized pharmaceutical company would have only limited opportunities for further growth, the McNeil family accepted a purchase offer for McNeil Laboratories from Johnson & Johnson in 1959.  Mr. McNeil remained with the J&J subsidiary as chairman until 1964 to ensure a smooth transition and integration.

A major influence within the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. McNeil served as a director of the American Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, president of the Philadelphia Drug Exchange, president of the Philadelphia branch of the American Pharmaceutical Association and a member of the Pennsylvania Drug, Device and Cosmetic Board. In 2005, he received the prestigious American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal as part of Heritage Day at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

After his retirement, Mr. McNeil became a major patron of cultural and educational institutions in the Philadelphia area, including the Philadelphia Zoo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Music, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Sciences and Yale University.

He served as a commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery, a member of the White House Preservation Committee and a trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He established the Barra Foundation, a philanthropic organization promoting education throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and providing funding for programs serving the homeless and disadvantaged.  The foundation has published 39 books, most dealing with Philadelphia history and culture.

Born in Bethel, Conn., Mr. Mc- Neil was raised in Germantown. He was a graduate of Germantown Academy and Yale University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He also received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from what was then the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, while simultaneously undertaking graduate studies in pharmacology at Temple University.

A resident of Wyndmoor since 1963, Mr. McNeil was a member of the Philadelphia Cricket Club, the Philadelphia Club, the Union League of Philadelphia, the Jupiter Island Club (Fla.) and a member of the board of Germantown Academy. 

He also was a former president of the Sons of the American Revolution and a member of the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia.

In addition to his wife, Nancy, he is survived by sons Collin Farquhar McNeil and Robert Lincoln “Rory” McNeil III; daughters Victoria McNeil Le Vine and Joanna McNeil Lewis, and 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 5, at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill. Interment will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, P.O. Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101, or the Community Partnership School, 1936 N. Judson St., Philadelphia, PA 19121. – WF


Frederic Norcross Close

Frederic Norcross Close, 79, of Dunwoody Farms, Newtown Square, died peacefully on May 18, 2010. He was the fifth child of L. Paul Close, investment banker, and Constance and a direct descendant of the Norcross family of Massachusetts. Surviving are his siblings; Richard Norcross (Tilly) Close, Wayland, MA, Patricia Marple and Nancy (Bill) Edwards, Lansdale, PA, Lawrence (Susanne) of Albrightsville, PA and William Close, New York City, NY. Fred was salutatorian of the Springfield Township High School graduating class of 1949 and was granted a full scholarship to the University of Pennslyvania where he studied languages and cultures of over five countries. His human kindness is best exemplified by his attitudes toward everything and everyone with whom he came in contact. He was a savant of dates, names and places, remembering what had gone before. Fred’s family meant everything to him. May he rest in peace with he Lord! Mass of Resurrection was held on May 24th at St. Anastasia’s Catholic Church, 3301 West Chester Pike, Upper Darby. Memorials may be sent to the Boy Scouts of America, 504 S. Concord Rd., West Chester, PA 19380.        




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