NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. — Robert C. Pew II had many loves in his life — sailing, tennis, skiing, playing bridge — but none of them meant more to him than his family.
“We did so many things together and took vacations,” said his son, John Pew. “He was a great father and a man with great integrity.”
The elder Pew, co-founder of the Robert and Mary Pew Public Education Fund, died Dec. 22 at Hospice of Palm Beach County’s facility at Jupiter Medical Center, 10 days after suffering a massive stroke. He was 89.
Pew, who lived in North Palm Beach, died in the company of his sons, John and Rob, his daughter, Kate Wolters and his good friend and partner, Patty Stichnoth. His wife, Mary, to whom Pew was married for 60 years, died of lung cancer in 2007, also on Dec. 22.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Pew graduated from Wesleyan University and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II and the Korean Conflict. He got a job at Steelcase, an office furniture company, in 1952 as a manufacturing expediter. He wound up leading the company for 33 years.
Pew became president and general manager in 1966 and was chairman of the firm’s Board of Directors from 1974 to 1999. In March 1999, Pew was named Chairman Emeritus. Under his leadership, Steelcase became the world’s largest producers and distributors of office furniture and furnishings.
But Pew was just as passionate about public education, which is why he and his wife started the Pew Education Fund in 1999. In 13 years, the foundation has awarded $22 million in grants to public schools.
“He thought all kids deserved a fair shake at life and deserved the same opportunities that kids from wealthier schools got all the time,” said Stephanie Pew, his daughter-in-law. “He was dedicated to public education.”
Besides his three children, Pew is also survived by five grandchildren — all boys — and one great granddaughter.