WESTFIELD, NJ—Larry Foster, former head of public relations at Johnson & Johnson and an architect of the company’s celebrated response to the Tylenol crisis, has died at his home in Westfield, NJ, after a brief illness. He was 88.
Foster joined Johnson & Johnson in 1957 to help form the company’s first public relations department after serving as night editor of New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, The Newark News. During 33 years at the company, he reported to three Johnson & Johnson chairmen and CEOs.
He served as director of public relations and assistant to the chairman before becoming corporate vice president of public relations and an officer of the company in 1973. In 1982, following the death of seven people in the Chicago area after ingesting poison-laced Tylenol, Foster led J&J’s response to the tragedy: the company withdrew 32 million packages of Tylenol from the market and was completely open with the press, as a way of keeping the public informed of the danger.
He also created an extensive corporate video network, the first of its kind, to connect some 150 affiliate companies worldwide.
He is the recipient of four of the highest awards in public relations: the 1989 Gold Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America, for contributions to the profession; the 1998 Atlas Award from PRSA, for lifetime achievement in international public relations; the Hall of Fame Award from the Arthur W. Page Society in 1994; and the Institute for Public Relations’ Alexander Hamilton Medal for lifetime achievement in 2007.
“Larry was truly one of the most prominent, influential and respected leaders of our profession,” says Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W Page Society.
Adds Bill Nielsen, who succeeded Foster at J&J, “Larry Foster was an extremely thoughtful and caring friend and colleague. By any measure, he was a giant in the public relations field…. Most important for me was the example he set for truthful, exact and precise communications, whether he was writing or speaking. He believed strongly that communication leaders should strive for influence and deliver real impact.”
Following his retirement in 1990 from Johnson & Johnson, Foster wrote the biography of Robert Wood Johnson, the man who built Johnson & Johnson from a family business into a global enterprise. He is also the author of A Company That Cares, the 100-year history of Johnson & Johnson.
Foster was born and raised in New Jersey. Shortly after entering high school, he decided to become a journalist and began writing for area newspapers. After graduation in 1943 he entered New York University and then transferred to the School of Journalism at The Pennsylvania State College, which later became Penn State University. At Penn State he was managing editor of the Daily Collegian and graduated in 1948.