Fred W. Shaffer, 85, formerly of Jenkintown, a self-described "hillbilly from the mountains of central Pennsylvania," who became controller and then vice president and chief financial officer of the former Rohm & Haas Co. in Philadelphia, died Monday, Jan. 1, of complications from pneumonia at Abington Hospital.

Fred W. Shaffer
Courtesy of the family
Fred W. Shaffer

Mr. Shaffer spent his entire career with the specialty chemical company after joining it in 1960. He started as a financial analyst and then spent two years as assistant controller of the Rohm & Haas plant in Houston.

Returning to the Philadelphia office in 1964, he rose to become controller in 1972. Beginning in 1978, he spent the next 19 years at the chemical giant as vice president and chief financial officer.

Raj Gupta, retired chairman and CEO of Rohm & Haas, said he benefited from Mr. Shaffer's skill as a mentor when Gupta joined the chemical company in 1971. At that time, Mr. Shaffer was already a senior executive. Known for developing talent at the firm, he included Gupta in his senior circle.

"He went from being my boss, to my colleague, to being a friend and mentor," Gupta said. "He was just one of those rare people, and a great human being. He left an impression on me and many other people. That is his legacy."

Mr. Shaffer retired in 1997. Gupta stayed on until Rohm & Haas was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2009. Last September, Dow Chemical merged with the DuPont Co. to form DowDuPont.

In recognition of Mr. Shaffer's effort to mentor his younger colleagues, Rohm & Haas created the annual Fred W. Shaffer Golf Outing while Mr. Shaffer was still working. It was held even after he retired.

Mr. Shaffer came from humble beginnings. He was born in Huntingdon, in a mining and farming region located between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg and graduated from Huntingdon Area Senior High School. His mother, Helen Whittaker, taught in a one-room schoolhouse. His father, Charles, dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family. Later, his father worked as a juvenile detention guard, then an electrician.

"I think it made him very grounded," said his daughter Dr. Sarah Hunnicutt. "I think he was driven, he was certainly ambitious, but he was also modest. He was proud of his roots."

"He thought of himself as a farm boy," daughter Pauline Shaffer said, and he remained close to nature throughout his life.

After winning a YMCA election, he served as "boy governor" in Harrisburg for three days in a model government program sponsored by the YMCA.

"My dad sat in an office outside the governor's office," Hunnicutt said. "The story is he 'vetoed' a bill. The legislature wanted to pass a repeal of a soda tax, but my father vetoed it because he thought the legislators needed to consider how, if you took away this tax money, they would they make it up."

Mr. Shaffer enrolled at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he earned a bachelor's degree in history. He sang in the glee club and managed the yearbook.

Mr. Shaffer spent a year at the Yale Divinity School, intending to become a cleric, but found himself better suited to a business career. He applied to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania but deferred his enrollment to serve in the Army for two years.

During that time, he met Catherine Meriel at the former central YMCA building at 1421 Arch St. in Philadelphia, where she was living. The two married in 1956.

After his military service, Mr. Shaffer was surprised to learn that Wharton had saved a place for him to enroll on scholarship while working toward a master of business administration degree. He graduated near the top of his class in 1960.

Mr. Shaffer was a busy civic volunteer. He served on the board of directors of the United Hospitals, as a 23-year board member for Abington Hospital, and on the board of the Philadelphia-area YMCA.

Mr. Shaffer was a lifelong churchgoer who believed in his parents' values of sharing life's blessings with others.

He remained loyal to Duke University and volunteered on the Duke Trinity Board of Visitors for several years, as well as on other Duke committees. In 1990, Mr. Shaffer was awarded the Charles A. Duke Award, the highest volunteer award that Duke bestows on alumni for meritorious service. He didn't make "a big deal" of the award, his daughter Pauline said.

For many years, he lived in Jenkintown before retiring to Rydal Park in 2012. In retirement, he maintained a home in Bonita Bay, Fla.

Mr. Shaffer's wife died in 2013. In addition to his daughters, he is survived by a son, Dr. Gene Shaffer; four grandchildren; a sister; and 11 nieces and nephews.

A visitation beginning at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13, will be followed by a 2 p.m. life celebration at Abington Presbyterian Church, 1082 Old York Rd., Abington. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Abington Health Foundation, 1200 Old York Rd., Abington, Pa. 19001.