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Paul Carr Polk McIlhenny, CEO and chairman of the board of Avery Island, La.-based McIlhenny Co., maker of the iconic Tabasco brand of pepper sauce, died on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the age of 68.
A sixth-generation member of the family to live on Avery Island and a fourth-generation member to produce Tabasco sauce, McIlhenny joined the company in 1967 and directly oversaw the production and quality of all products sold under the Tabasco brand for 13 years. At the time of his death, he was a director of McIlhenny Co., as well as president and a director of Avery Island Inc.
During McIlhenny’s tenure, McIlhenny Co. saw many years of record sales and earnings growth, marked by the rollout of many new products and flavors under the Tabasco brand, including Chipotle Pepper Sauce, Sweet & Spicy Pepper Sauce, and Buffalo Style Hot Sauce. A lifelong epicure and the author of a cookbook, McIlhenny led the 145-year-old company’s continuing response to the culinary and flavor trends that shape the way American consumers eat. He also spearheaded an expansion of merchandising, licensing partnerships and product offerings to include numerous products co-branded with the Tabasco brand name, as well as a catalog business in licensed merchandise, including Tabasco neckties. Thanks to McIlhenny’s efforts, Tabasco brand products are currently sold in more than 165 countries and territories.
Born in 1944, McIlhenny served Stateside as an artillerist in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He reigned in 2006 as a Rex, the first King of Carnival after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in 2010, among other honors.
“All of McIlhenny Company and the McIlhenny and Avery families are deeply saddened by this news,” said Tony Simmons, president of McIlhenny Co. and a fifth-generation McIlhenny family member. “We will clearly miss Paul’s devoted leadership, but will more sorely feel the loss of his acumen, his charm and his irrepressible sense of humor.”
Survivors include McIlhenny’s wife, Judith Goodwin McIlhenny, daughters Barbara McIlhenny Fitz-Hugh and Rosemary McIlhenny Dinkins, and four grandchildren.