Business, Publishing Executive James H. McIlhenny

Monday, November 6, 2006

James H. McIlhenny, 78, former president and chief executive of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and former president of U.S. News & World Report magazine, died of complications of cancer Nov. 3 at his Alexandria home.

Mr. McIlhenny's career embraced retailing, manufacturing and publishing, although his favorite job was running the magazine in the early 1980s. At the time, it was Washington's second-largest publishing company.

He foresaw the future of news, in 1981 creating a subsidiary of U.S. News & World Report to oversee the development of a worldwide electronic publishing system.

"We will get into the electronic transmission of news," he told The Washington Post. "What we're not sure of is how things will get distributed. We're having an information explosion, and people will be seeing and listening to news produced by U.S. News."

When the employee-owned magazine was sold in 1984 to Mort Zuckerman, Mr. McIlhenny left to become president of Diversified Printing Corp. in Atglen, Pa., which printed Parade magazine.

He returned to Northern Virginia in 1987, when he was named president and chief executive of the Arlington-based Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for the nation's Better Business Bureaus. He retired in 1994 and was inducted into the BBB Hall of Fame in September.

Mr. McIlhenny was born in Cleveland and attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for two years, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1950. He began work at Alabama Shoe Co. in Nashville and was transferred by the parent company, Genesco Inc., to New York, where he served as assistant to the chairman.

By the 1960s, Mr. McIlhenny was president of I. Miller Shoe Co. and vice president of manufacturing for W.O. Hickok Manufacturing Co.

He worked for Macmillan Publishers for 12 years, rising to the position of executive vice president and senior operating officer and was responsible for the operations of Gump's, Brentano's Bookstores, Crowell Collier Book Service, C.G. Conn Musical Instruments and several other subsidiaries.

Mr. McIlhenny was past board chairman of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and a member of the Rotary Club of Alexandria. He also was a former director of Manhattan National Corp., the Gravure Technical Association and the American Management Association.

Described as an outgoing, gregarious person who loved sailing, he built ship models in his spare time and was a passionate gardener, focusing primarily on perennials.

His marriage to Dorothy Johnson ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Candace McIlhenny of Alexandria; a daughter from his first marriage, Claire Dempsey of Minneapolis; a brother; and three grandchildren.

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