Leon A. Gorman, chairman emeritus of L.L. Bean and grandson of the company’s founder, died Thursday at his home in Yarmouth, Maine, at the age of 80. The cause of death was cancer, which he had battled for several years, according to the company.
Gorman, who headed the company for 35 years, is credited with transforming the sleepy $2.25 million Maine cataloguer into a leader in the outdoors industry with annual sales of $1.6 billion today.
After his retirement in 2013, Gorman was succeeded as president and chief executive officer by Christopher J. McCormick, the first nonfamily member to run the company. Shawn Gorman, his nephew succeeded him as chairman.
Gorman was born in Nashua, N.H., on Dec. 20, 1934 and was raised in Yarmouth. He attended Bowdoin College and graduated in 1956, at which point he served in the U.S. Navy for six years before returning home in 1960 to join his grandfather, Leon Leonwood Bean at the family business.
He was named president in 1967 upon the death of his grandfather and served in that role for over three decades. He became chairman of the board in 2001 and chairman emeritus in 2013.
His proudest accomplishment, he once said, was “growing my grandfather’s company from employing less than 100 people in 1960 to tens of thousands of good people over the generations, a company based on solid Maine values of integrity, customer service, respect for people, a love of the outdoors, and perseverance.”
A quiet, unassuming man, Gorman was practical and hardworking, but with a keen sense for business. He was also an avid outdoorsman, most comfortable trout fishing or hunting in the Maine woods with his Springer Spaniels. He climbed Mt. Rainier, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and ascended to Camp Three during the 1990 Mount Everest International Peace Climb, an expedition sponsored by L.L.Bean.
He was also a philanthropist, working to protect acres of woodland along the St. John River, the 100-Mile Wilderness and Katahdin Lake. He provided funds to establish and support the Coastal Studies Center at Bowdoin, the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges, the Casco Bay Regional YMCA, Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Maine Huts & Trails, the Cancer Community Center, Preble Street, the United Way of Greater Portland, the Student Conservation Association, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Nature Conservancy of Maine, the Yarmouth Historical Society, Yarmouth Merrill Memorial Library and other organizations.
In a note to employees on Thursday, McCormick said: “Leon has been a great presence in my life for the past 32 years. I know that he also played a significant role in the lives of many of you. He was a boss, mentor, coach, community leader, dear friend and inspiration. Most importantly, he was the most decent human being you would ever want to meet. We will all miss him greatly.”
Jennifer Wilson, Gorman’s daughter, also reached out to the company, writing: “My Dad’s passing leaves an immeasurable void in our family. Leon was a larger than life figure in my world growing up. He was my dad, yet his life was closely intertwined with the company he built, nurtured and loved. Not surprisingly, the personality traits that describe our company fit my Dad to a T. Honest, trustworthy, dependable, loyal, friendly, an experienced guide, sense of humor, respectful, outdoor oriented, authentic, vigorous, and environmentally aware.”
Matthew Rubel, senior adviser at TPG Capital, and the former chairman, ceo and president of Collective Brands, Inc., said he had gotten to know Gorman during his time as ceo of Cole Haan.
“He was incredibly important in creating a company and a brand with incredible values which is a standard of excellence in that its value permeated all that it touched,” he said.
Gorman is survived by his wife, Lisa; son Jeffrey; daughters Ainslie Boroff and Jennifer Wilson; stepson Shimon Cohen; stepdaughter Nancy Cohen, and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service will be Sunday, Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater Street, Westbrook, Maine. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations to Preble Street, c/o Mark Swann, P.O. Box 1459, Portland, ME 04104, or The Leon A. Gorman Scholarship Fund, The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges, 54 Lighthouse Circle, South Portland, ME 04106.
On Friday, the home page of the company’s Web site showed an illustration of Gorman and his dogs. He was wearing an L.L. Bean signature jacket and hunting boots and the copy read: In Memoriam, Leon A. Gorman, 1934-2015.