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John J. Horan

by Susan J. Ainsworth
February 14, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 7

John J. Horan, 90, who served as chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Merck & Co. from 1976 to 1985, died on Jan. 22 of natural causes.

By the end of his term as CEO, Horan had led Merck in becoming the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. Horan supported research that led to the development of ivermectin, a medication that helps prevent and treat the tropical disease known as river blindness. He also helped forge a long-running global partnership with a range of governments, intergovernmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations that today serves as a model for governmental and business cooperation in humanitarian efforts in developing nations.

Horan received an A.B. from Manhattan College in 1940 and a J.D. degree from Columbia University Law School in 1946.

He was an officer in the Navy, serving with its Amphibious Forces during World War II. As communications officer on the staff of Adm. John Wilkes, Horan helped deliver the orders that led to the launch of the Normandy invasion, the largest amphibious operation in history.

In 1952, he joined Merck’s legal department. He rose steadily, serving as general counsel, director of public relations, director of research administration, director of corporate planning, and president of Merck Sharp & Dohme, a Merck & Co. subsidiary. He was later appointed Merck & Co.’s president and chief operating officer.

Upon his retirement from management at Merck, Horan continued to serve as a member of the company’s board of directors and as its vice chairman until 1993. He also played an active role in the development of the biotechnology industry, serving as chairman of the board of Myriad Genetics, chairman of Atrix Laboratories, and director of Celgene.

While at Merck, Horan served as chairman of the board for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and as a member of the Business Roundtable. He was also a trustee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a board member of the United Negro College Fund.

He received the George Champion Award from Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, the De La Salle Medal from Manhattan College, and the Distinguished Service Award from the United Negro College Fund.

Horan is survived by his wife of 66 years, Julia Fitzgerald; daughter, Mary Alice Ryan; sons Thomas, John Jr., and David; nine grand­­­­­children; and two great-grandchildren.



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