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Geoffrey Randolph “GR” Webster, former worldwide president of Givaudan-Roure Fragrances, died Monday at his home in Grasse, France.
This story first appeared in the January 9, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Webster, 68, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer of the brain, bones and lungs in November.
Webster, who retired from Givaudan in 2000, joined Roure Inc. in 1972. His career path geographically spanned from New York to the Midwest and on to Paris, where he worked for nine years at Roure’s worldwide headquarters, serving in the capacity of vice president, Europe. Returning to the U.S. in 1987, he became Roure’s chairman, chief executive officer and president. After Roure merged with Givaudan in 1991, Webster was named president, North America for Givaudan-Roure. He moved to Paris again when he rose to the position of worldwide president for the organization, a post he held until he retired. That year Givaudan-Roure became simply Givaudan, and later in 2000 Webster was inducted into the Fragrance Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
“Geoff joined Roure in the US in 1972 after his service in the US Army in Vietnam,” said Gilles Andrier, chief executive officer of Givaudan. “He played a key role in developing [the] Fine Fragrance [division] and then the wider fragrance business in both North America and Europe. He was instrumental in winning many significant perfumes which are still leading global brands, appreciated by many consumers around the world. We will all remember his commercial skills, his extremely loyal and committed personality, and true dedication for people in his team. Our heart goes out to his wife Agnes and their three children at this difficult time.”
“All of us at Givaudan are deeply saddened to learn of Geoff’s untimely passing,” said Cosimo Policastro, executive vice president of Givaudan Fine Fragrances. “Geoff will forever be remembered as a caring mentor to many of us, an impassioned advocate for our industry and an unparalleled leader. Although Geoff has passed, his presence and influence on our company, our industry and ourselves will remain. My sincere condolences go out to Geoff’s family during this extremely difficult time.”
“I had the privilege of working with Geoff for many years,” said Annette Green, president emeritus of the Fragrance Foundation, who noted that Webster spent nine years as a board member of the Fragrance Foundation. “He was beyond kind, caring and supportive — truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.”
“Geoffrey was an outstanding and multitalented individual, a brilliant thinker, an accomplished artist, a seasoned aviator and a highly decorated military hero,” said Sally Yeh, former president of Bijan Fragrances Inc. “He was an effective and caring leader, a loving and devoted husband and father, and a mentor to many. I had always looked up to him, admired and respected him and consider myself fortunate to have been his business associate and, above all, a friend.”
Webster’s education included architecture studies at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. He also attended Harvard Business School’s elite program for company leaders and later, L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, studying classical portrait painting in oils.
As a U.S. Army pilot stationed in Vietnam, Webster commanded the Mustang Gunship Platoon of the 68th Assault Helicopter Company. His repeated acts of valor earned him more than 40 medals and decorations during his tour of duty in Vietnam, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, the Cross of Gallantry and the Purple Heart. Flying continued to be a passion of Webster’s, one he avidly pursued until his diagnosis. “He was also one of the world’s top collectors of authentic toy airplanes, with his own museum to display them,” added Yeh. “In 2011, he published a book featuring his collection with detail manufacturing history to share his knowledge with other collectors.”
Webster is survived by his wife, Agnes; children Jim, George and Helene; mother and stepfather Helen and Bud Lindsay; sisters Wendy Webster Keleher and Diana Webster Biehl; half brother Alivin F. Lindsay, and stepsisters Paula Lindsay Gillies and Elizabeth Lindsay Kuhnke.
“His passing was peaceful and painless,” noted Kuhnke. “Just before his final breath, with Agnes by his side, he reached toward the sky. A fitting finale for a man who felt at home amongst the clouds.”
A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Puy de Grasse in Grasse. A private interment will take place on Monday, to be followed by a memorial gathering to celebrate Webster’s life at the Ramon Theater in Frostproof, Fla., on Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. A reception will follow at Alligator Lodge, the Webster family home nearby.
Flowers are welcome at either service; alternatively, gifts can be made in Webster’s honor to the giver’s favorite charity.