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Donald Perkins, Northwestern Trustee, Dies at 88

Former president of Jewel made significant contributions to the University as board member

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Donald S. Perkins, retired CEO and chairman of the board of Jewel Companies and a member of Northwestern University’s board of trustees, died at his home in Northfield, Ill., on March 25. He was 88.

Perkins joined the Northwestern University Board of Trustees in 1970 and was elected a Life Trustee in 2003. He served as vice chairman of the board and on the nomination of trustees and officers, development, executive, budget, compensation, and educational policies committees.

He was co-chairman of Campaign Northwestern in 1998, as well as a member of the 1984 and 1994 Northwestern presidential search committees. He also served on the School of Communication National Advisory Council and the School of Education and Social Policy Board of Advisors.

Henry S. Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern, said Perkins was “a great friend, a wonderful man and an exceptional Northwestern trustee.”

Bienen said, “He was a man persuaded by facts and he asked tough and penetrating questions. Don was an excellent chair of the campaign undertaken in my presidency. He worked hard on the campaign as he worked hard on whatever he undertook. Don was straightforward, honest and fair-minded.

“He deserved all the deep respect and admiration that he received from his many friends, fellow trustees and civic leaders. All those who knew Don will miss him,” Bienen said.

Perkins was named president of Jewel, a supermarket chain, in 1965 at the age of 38 and, in 1970, CEO and chairman of the board, a role he would limit to 10 years, believing that it was important for other talented leaders to have a chance to have an impact on the company.

He also was known as a champion for strong corporate governance. He recruited independent directors to Jewel and then made a career of being an independent director in the years that followed his retirement from Jewel in 1983. As of 2006, he had more than 350 cumulative years of experience as an independent director on corporate boards, including Inland Steel, Kodak, Corning Glass, Cummins Engine, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, Time Warner, LaSalle Partners, Freeport McMoran, G.D. Searle, TBG (Thyssen Bournemisza), Firestone, Putnam Funds, Aon, Springs Industries, Illinova and Kmart Corporation.

That experience led him to the creation of an annual Governance Conference, cofounded with Northwestern and Shields Meneley Partners. He served as a trustee of the Ford Foundation, the Brookings Institution and the International Council of Morgan Bank, among many other not-for-profit endeavors. He also was an active member of The Business Council. Perkins also was instrumental in the founding of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and served as its first chairman.   

Perkins was born in St. Louis and raised by a single mother. He got a scholarship to Yale University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1949. Another scholarship led him to Harvard Business School, where he graduated first in his class in 1951. He served for two years in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II and as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.

Perkins is survived by his wife of 30 years, Jane Phillips Perkins; daughters Betsy Perkins Hill, Susan Perkins (David MacKenzie) and Elizabeth (George) Phillips-Sorich; son Frank (Mary) Phillips; his brother Bob Perkins; sister Joan Gerrard; seven grandchildren, one great grandchild; and daughter-in-law Pat Mayland Perkins. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Phyllis Babb Perkins, his son Jervis Babb Perkins and his grandson Jeremy Jefferis Hill. 

A memorial service will be held in May. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Donald S. Perkins Scholarship Fund at Northwestern University.

Donations can be made to:

Northwestern University
Alumni Relations & Development - GRS
Donald S. Perkins Scholarship Fund
1201 Davis Street
Evanston, IL 60208-4410

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