Edmund Pratt, Engineering '47, former chair and CEO of Pfizer Inc. and the namesake of the University's engineering school, died Thursday at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He was 75.
Pratt will be remembered not only as one of the University's most generous benefactors, having donated $35 million to the School of Engineering, but also as one of the leaders of American industry in the last half of the 20th century.
"Ed Pratt was a wonderful person, gracious and generous, humble and someone who really enjoyed life," Kristina Johnson, dean of the engineering school, said in a statement Friday. "He had an easy rapport with our students, telling them that he was 'just lucky' in life. We were the lucky ones to be in his life. He had an amazing smile and a presence that lit up a room. He will be missed tremendously by all of us. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family."
Harold "Spike" Yoh, Engineering '58, and chair of the Board of Trustees, said he only recently got to know Pratt personally through their joint interest in Duke, but that he had always respected Pratt professionally.
"I would think [he will be remembered] mainly as an individual, as a caring alumnus, someone who was very proud of his University and someone who felt he could make a difference," Yoh said.
President Nan Keohane noted that one of the most touching things about Pratt was how he cared for his first wife Ginny, who had Alzheimer's disease. "He was a fun-loving, thoughtful, take-charge person who also had a very gentle and gracious side, and was not afraid to show it," she wrote in an e-mail.
Pratt came to Pfizer in 1964 as controller, was named its president in 1971 and chair and chief executive officer in 1972. Pratt served as CEO for almost two decades, stepping down in May 1991, retiring from Pfizer in 1992 and serving as a board member until 1997.
Pfizer is an internationally-recognized pharmaceutical research company. During Pratt's tenure as CEO, the company's profits increased from $1 billion to $7 billion. Today, the company's revenue is nearly $30 billion and it employs a workforce of 85,000.
"During his 20-year tenure as CEO, Ed Pratt transformed Pfizer from a diversified manufacturing company to a research-based pharmaceutical company," Hank McKinnell, Pfizer chair and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Ed Pratt's impact was felt far beyond Pfizer. He had enormous influence in shaping modern global trade during the 1980s, thanks to his passionate and tireless advocacy for the intellectual property protection rights that are so vital to the pharmaceutical industry and many others."
Pratt was born in 1927 in Savannah, Ga., but grew up in Elkton, Md. After graduating magna cum laude from Duke in 1947 with a B.S. in electrical engineering, he went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and received his M.B.A. in 1949. A veteran, Pratt fought in World War II and served as a lieutenant in the Korean War.
Although he started his career with IBM in 1949, he took a brief detour through the government, serving as assistant secretary of the Army for financial management during the Kennedy administration.
Pratt also served on a myriad of corporate boards, including the General Motors Corporation, International Paper Company, The Chase Manhattan Corporation and The Chase Manhattan Bank.
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Pratt is survived by his wife, Nancy Rhodes Pratt, and two sons, Randolf, of Plandome, N.Y., and Keith, of Brighton, Mich.
Johnson was out of the country and could not immediately be reached for further comment, but in an e-mail to the Pratt school community late last Friday, she said that the memorial service would be private and for family only, and that she was awaiting word from the Pratt family on how to send condolences.