Vincent L. Gregory Jr., 95, the retired president and CEO of the former Rohm & Haas Co., died Monday, June 3, of a chronic respiratory illness at his home in Hampshire, England.
In 2017, he moved to the United Kingdom to be near family, said his granddaughter Melanie Gregory-Pulling. Before that, he lived in Center City.
Mr. Gregory served as head of Rohm & Haas from 1970 until retiring in 1988. The chemical company, which was once headquartered in Philadelphia, merged with Dow Chemical in 2009.
Mr. Gregory was born in Oil City, Venango County, during the Great Depression. He was one of nine children. Because his father had trouble finding work, Mr. Gregory chopped firewood to help support his family.
Although he had considered entering the priesthood, he chose a business career. After graduating from high school, he was granted a scholarship to study economics at Princeton University and enrolled there in 1940.
A year later, he postponed his studies to join the Army Air Force and was a fighter pilot in Europe during World War II, according to a biography on file with the Science History Institute sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts. He served until 1945.
In 1946, he married Marjorie Gladys Scott, whom he met in England. The couple moved to the United States so that Mr. Gregory could resume his studies.
Mr. Gregory pursued a bachelor’s degree at Princeton and a master’s in business administration at Harvard University at the same time, earning both degrees in 1949.
“This was very unusual, but both universities allowed Vince to study both courses simultaneously, even working through the holidays,” his family said.
He joined Rohm & Haas in 1949 as a junior accountant responsible for conducting internal audits at three of the chemical company’s plants.
In 1953, he was sent to France to start up the first Rohm & Haas plant abroad. In 1955, he moved to England to manage the company’s agricultural-chemical operations before becoming the firm’s director of European operations in 1964.
“Under his leadership, Rohm & Haas-Europe’s share of total company profits increased from one to 30 percent,” his biography said.
In 1968, Mr. Gregory moved back to Philadelphia and assumed control of company operations in Latin America and the Pacific. In 1970, as the Haas family loosened its hold on the company, departing president F. Otto Haas chose Mr. Gregory as the first non-family head of Rohm & Haas.
Mr. Gregory instituted a 10 percent across-the-board downsizing, added executives from outside Rohm & Haas to the board directors for the first time, and revamped the firm's management system.
Mr. Gregory focused the company’s product lines on polymers, plastics, and agricultural chemicals. He tightened the company’s environmental controls when bis-chloromethyl ether, a liquid the company produced at its Bridesburg plant and used to make polymers, resins, and textiles, was found to cause cancer in rats. Its use is now tightly regulated.
He participated in hearings that led to the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976. The legislation, which was approved by Congress and is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, regulates the use of new or existing chemicals.
Mr. Gregory received many awards over the years. Upon retiring, he was instrumental in creating a post at Harvard, the Vincent L. Gregory Chair of Cancer Research. He spent much of his time working in the fields of cancer research and disease prevention.
Mr. Gregory never lost contact with his roots in Oil City, and always was gracious about his success.
“Granddad had a great sense of humor, right up to the end,” his granddaughter said in an email from the U.K. “He was also charming and polite, even shaking hands with the doctor as he lay on his death bed.”
In addition to his wife, Marjorie, and granddaughter, Melanie, he is survived by a son, Greg; a second granddaughter, Emma Smith; four great-grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.
Funeral services and burial will be Tuesday, June 25, in Hampshire, England.