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CEO Paul McIlhenny at co. that makes Tabasco dies

AVERY ISLAND, La. (AP) -- Paul Carr McIlhenny, chief executive and chairman of the board of the McIlhenny Company that makes the trademarked line of Tabasco hot pepper sauces sold the world over, has died. He was 68.

The company based on south Louisiana's Avery Island said in a statement that McIlhenny had died Saturday. The statement released Sunday credited McIlhenny's leadership for greatly expanding the varieties of hot sauces sold under the Tabasco brand and for expanding their global distribution.

McIlhenny was a member of a storied clan whose 145-year-old company has been producing the original world-famous Tabasco sauce for several generations since shortly after the Civil War. The statement said he joined the company in 1967 and directly oversaw production and quality of all products sold under the Tabasco brand for 13 years.

Under McIlhenny's management, the company experienced many years of record growth in sales and earnings as it introduced several new flavors of its namesake Tabasco brand and other sauces, according to the company.

McIlhenny also worked tirelessly to expand the number of items that could be marketed and emblazoned with the Tabasco logo from T-shirts and aprons and neckties to stuffed toy bears and computer screensavers, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans noted. The newspaper ( http://bit.ly/YPZO2I ) first reported the death and noted he was an executive with a keen sense of humor, once notably quipping: "We're defending the world against bland food."

The Times-Picayune said he had served as the company's president starting in 1998 before adding the title of CEO two years later. It added that his cousin, Tony Simmons, took over as president last year.

"All of McIlhenny Company and the McIlhenny and Avery families are deeply saddened by this news," said Tony Simmons, president of McIlhenny Company and a McIlhenny family member, said in the company's statement.

Simmons added: "We will clearly miss Paul's devoted leadership but will more sorely feel the loss of his acumen, his charm and his irrepressible sense of humor."

The statement said McIlhenny also led the way on brand merchandising and licensing partnerships, expanding the company's catalogue business of licensed merchandise. He also was a driving force behind the growing global reach of Tabasco products to more than 165 countries and territories where they are sold today.

The company said McIlhenny, at the time of his death, was also a company director. He was a sixth-generation member of the family to live on Avery Island and among the fourth generation to produce the Tabasco brand sauce on Avery Island, where patriarch Edmund McIlhenny had founded the company in 1868.

Born on March 19, 1944, he grew up in New Orleans and spent much of his childhood moving between New Orleans the family compound on Avery Island, according to The Times-Picayune.

Reports noted he also had been an impassioned board member of America's Wetland Foundation because of his longtime interest in preserving south Louisiana coastlines crumbling under the onslaught of decades of erosion.