NEW YORK — Richard L. Battram, who rose from a store buyer to executive vice chairman of May Department Stores Co. and was a key figure in the company for decades, died of thyroid cancer Friday at his home in Ladue, Mo. He was 71.

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the mid-Eighties and into the Nineties, as a vice chairman of St. Louis-based May, Battram worked closely with David Farrell, the legendary chairman and chief executive officer, who drove the retailer to unprecedented growth and prosperity. May was acquired last year by Federated Department Store Co. Inc.

Battram, a talented merchant, was deeply involved in team-building while working closely with the strong-willed Farrell. One former May official said Battram’s personality counterbalanced that of Farrell.

He also became an avid supporter of several civic and charitable causes and cultural institutions, serving as a director of St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo., the St. Louis Symphony and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, among other organizations.

His son Jeffrey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his father was interested in “the little guy who was working hard for the company on the sales floor. He made them feel extremely important. He would greet them by name.”

Battram landed his first job as a buyer for the L.S. Ayres & Co. stores in Indianapolis, which eventually became a May division. In 1972, he joined May as vice president and general merchandise manager of the Meier & Frank division in Portland, Ore. Battram became the chain’s president and ceo in 1975.

The next year, Battram was appointed president of Famous-Barr in St. Louis and was named its ceo in 1978. In 1984, he rose to vice chairman of parent May Co. and became a director of the company. In 1995, he was named executive vice chairman. Battram retired in 1997.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Mo. Interment will be private.

He is survived by his wife, Patty; three sons, Gregory, Jeffrey and Richard; a brother, Charles, and a sister, Mary Royalty.