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HOUSTON - Robert Onstead, co-founder and former chairman of Randalls Food Markets, died last week of a heart attack at the age of 73 while vacationing in Italy with family members.
Onstead, who was raised in a small farming community south of Dallas, started in the grocery industry at 13, working summers at his uncle's corner grocery store. After attending the University of North Texas in Denton, marrying, and serving in the Air Force, he moved to Houston and worked for his father-in-law at Randalls Super Valu Stores, a three-store chain. Following his father-in-law's death in 1962, Onstead and the other owners sold the stores to Hubbard Co. Displeased with the new management, Onstead founded Randalls Food Markets with Randall C. Barclay and Norman Frewin in 1966. By the late 90s the business had expanded from the original two stores to 114.
In addition to building Randall's Food Markets into a chain that has become a well-known name in the supermarket industry, Onstead was a both a civic and industry visionary. He served on the boards of Abilene Christian University, Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Commerce Bancshares, Inc., the University Cancer Foundation at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the Food Marketing Institute, among others.
Tim Hammonds, president and c.e.o. of FMI, said: "Robert Onstead was a civic leader, a business innovator, and a customer-service champion. He ran his business understanding that the road to success is to focus on your customers -- understand their needs and do a better job of serving those needs than the competition. His company was known for providing high quality and high service. He was not afraid to experiment."
Continued Hammonds: "Robert made many important contributions to our industry and was a valued member of FMI's board of directors for many years, and one who would take off his company hat and explore broader issues in light of what was best for the industry."
Onstead is survived by his wife, Kay; four children; his brother, Dr. Charles Onstead; eight grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home will release funeral arrangements.