Penn State Philanthropist and Public Relations Icon Larry Foster Dies
Larry Foster made his mark as a legendary figure in the public relations industry and for dedicated service to his alma mater.
The Penn State graduate passed away on Thursday at age 88. He leaves behind a sterling record of accomplishment and philanthropy.
Foster was named one of the top public relations professionals of the 20th century. As an executive with Johnson & Johnson, it was Foster who rescued the Tylenol brand after the cyanide tragedy in the early 1980's.
“When you ask about the giants of corporate communications, Larry Foster is usually one of the first persons named,” says Penn State President Rodney Erickson. “There are many textbook cases built on Larry’s long and successful career based on his commitment to honesty and integrity."
Foster earned his journalism degree at Penn State in 1948 and started out as a newspaper reporter.
He joined Johnson & Johnson in 1957, rising to become corporate vice president of public relations.
In 1982, seven people died after taking Tylenol laced with cyanide. Foster led Johnson & Johnson's response and was instrumental in the company's decision to recall 32 million packages of Tylenol. That strong response cost $125 million but it also generated an extremely positive response. Tylenol was eventually returned to store shelves.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but there was no discussion about the cost,” Foster told Penn State students in 2006.
According to Penn State, PRWeek magazine named Foster one of the 10 most influential public relations professionals of the 20th century.
Foster, who served as editor of the Daily Collegian met his wife, Ellen at Penn State. They were married for 64 years.
Foster served as a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1989. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1979 and received the 1999 Lion’s Paw Award for service to the university.
The Fosters have donated more than $2 million to Penn State. The couple provided funds to endow the Larry and Ellen Foster Professorship in Writing and Editing and to support the twice-a-year Foster-Foreman Conference of Distinguished Writers. They created the Lawrence G. and Ellen M. Foster Scholarship endowment. The Fosters also helped establish the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication.
“Any words to try to summarize the Fosters’ impact would be an understatement,” says Doug Anderson, dean of the College of Communications. “Larry and Ellen have, through their personal generosity, supported students, faculty, programs and facilities. The spectrum of their impact is incredible.”