Former Mead CEO Burnell Roberts dies, remembered for his work on Dayton boards

A visitation and funeral service for Burnell Roberts, a former Mead Corp. executive, will take place Thursday.

Burnell Richard Roberts died Feb. 28 at the age of 95, his obituary said.

Roberts had been chairman of paper producer and electronic publishing company Mead Corp. since 1982 when he retired (in 1992) at the age of 65. He was succeeded by Steven Mason, then a 35-year employee and Mead’s vice chairman.

“I have been blessed by working with a wonderful group of people in each organization where I was employed,” his obituary quoted him as saying. “They were intelligent, dedicated, honest, creative and all with a keen sense of humor. None of my career advancement or successes, or the success of the corporations I worked with could have happened without this great group of people.”

Burnell was born May 6, 1927, in Lafayette County, Wisc., his obit said. He attended the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship for two years before enlisting in the Navy to serve in World War II. After his service he returned to finish his degree in 1950.

While at Wisconsin, he met his future wife Karen Ragatz. They married in August 1953 and were married until her passing in July 2021, his obituary said.

Mead recruited him in 1966 to serve as controller.

“He advanced through finance and operating roles before being named president of the corporation in 1981,” his obituary said. “In 1982, Burnell was elected chairman and CEO and led Mead for 10 years until his retirement at age 65 in 1992.”

After retiring from Mead, he joined American Industrial Partners, a private equity company, as a partner until his retirement in 2004.

Mead agreed to merge with the Westvaco Corp. in 2001 in a $3 billion deal. In 2011, MeadWestvaco spun off its consumer and office products division to Lincolnshire, Ill.-based ACCO Brands in a deal eventually said to be worth $998 million.

ACCO Brands has an office at 4751 Hempstead Station Drive in Kettering.

Roberts served on several corporate boards including Armco Inc., National City Bank (Cleveland), Northwood Pulp & Paper, DPL, Inc., Perkins-Elmer Corporation and Rayonier Inc.

During his career, he also served on the boards of the Dayton Foundation, the Dayton Art Institute, the Dayton Performing Arts Fund, Miami Valley Research Foundation and Hospice of Dayton, plus other local charities.

Roberts also served on the Sinclair Community College Board of Trustees from 1985 to 1995, three of those years as chair.

“Burnell was a dedicated and passionate advocate for literacy issues, students with special needs, and the arts. He embraced Sinclair’s mission to find the need and endeavor to meet it by championing initiatives focused on student and community success,” Steve Johnson, Sinclair president, said in a statement “We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and many friends.”

Roberts is survived by his four children.

Visitation will be at the chapel at Tobias Funeral Home, 5471 Far Hills Ave., from 3 to 4 p.m. March 30 , with a funeral service to follow at 4.

The family will attend a private interment at Dayton National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton (324 Wilmington Ave. Dayton, OH 45420).

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