AVERY ISLAND, La. — Paul McIlhenny — chief executive of McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco sauce, and great-grandson of Edmund McIlhenny, who invented Tabasco sauce after the Civil War — passed away on Saturday. He was 68.
Paul Carr Polk McIlhenny was born in Houston on March 19, 1944, with his twin sister, Sara. He attended the Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and the University of the South in Tennessee, and served stateside in the Marine Corps Reserve.
McIlhenny joined the family business in 1967 and was groomed by his cousin Walter McIlhenny, then president of the company. His first jobs included loading peppers in the field, processing the pepper mash and loading cases of sauce onto rail cars. He lived on the West Coast to learn the company’s retail sales and food broker operations.
McIlhenny would become chief executive in 2000. During his tenure as CEO, the company enjoyed record growth, thanks in part to the introduction of new products, such as chipotle, sweet and spicy and Buffalo-style hot sauces and the expansion of a catalog business that sells Tabasco neckties and teddy bears. McIlhenny also formed licensing deals with the makers of A1 steak sauce, Spam, Cheez-Its and other supermarket staples.