NEW YORK — Irwin Zazulia, a 28-year veteran of May Department Stores Co. who spent 20 years as president and chief executive of May’s Washington D.C.-based Hecht’s division, died Tuesday morning of cardiac arrest, the company said. He was 61.

He was credited with catapulting Hecht’s from a local chain to a regional retail force, growing it to 74 stores from 21 and managing four complex mergers involving integrating Thalhimers, Miller & Rhoades, Wanamakers and Strawbridge’s into Hecht’s. When he retired in 2000, Hecht’s annual sales were $2.5 billion. The division, now called Hecht’s/Strawbridge’s, operates 80 stores in Washington, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Tennessee.

May Co. said Zazulia was "a talented teacher and trainer of top executives," with 10 executives under his tutelage rising to president or chairman of other May divisions.

Zazulia began his retailing career in the training program at Stern Brothers in New York in the late Sixties, joined Hecht’s as a divisional merchandise manager of ready-to-wear in 1971, rose steadily up the merchandising ranks, to vice president and general merchandise manager for all apparel and accessories; executive vice president for all merchandising, then vice chairman. In 1980, he was appointed president and ceo.

Zazulia was involved in many local and national charities and was appointed to the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in 1999. He was a member of the board’s committee on human resources and served on the research, public affairs and community affairs committee. Among his charitable efforts, he served on the Second Genesis Corporate advisory board for eight years and was a strong advocate of its drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. In 1998, he was honored as "man of the year" by Second Genesis.

He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Judy; his four children, including two from a previous marriage; three grandchildren, and a brother, Arnold.

Services will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at Taylor Funeral Home, Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, Md.

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