Winton Malcolm "Red" Blount, 81, a retired Alabama businessman and past president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who had served in the Nixon Cabinet as postmaster general, died Oct. 24 at his summer home in Highlands, N.C. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Blount, who served as chamber president in 1968, was named postmaster general in 1969. He was to be the last postmaster general to serve in the Cabinet. He was assigned by President Richard M. Nixon to direct the transition of the Post Office into the Postal Service through partial privatization. Proponents of the plan pointed to the desirability of taking the Post Office out of politics and to set it running as a modern corporation.

After leading postal reform legislation implementing these ideas, Mr. Blount served as the first board chairman of the new U.S. Postal Service before returning to Alabama in 1972. Later that year, he ran as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, losing to incumbent John Sparkman.

Upon learning of his death, President George W. Bush said Mr. Blount had been "an outstanding leader" and hailed "his public service and his contributions to his community, state and nation." Former president Gerald R. Ford recalled Mr. Blount as "a person of integrity and leadership."

Mr. Blount, a resident of Montgomery, Ala., was a native of Union Springs, Ala. He attended the University of Alabama and flew Army Air Forces B-29 ("Superfortress") bombers in World War II before co-founding the Blount Brothers Corp. in 1946.

The company, which started building Alabama fish ponds, grew into an immense construction concern. The company built the first intercontinental ballistic missile base in Wyoming, space shuttle launch pads in Florida, the New Orleans Superdome and the $2 billion King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. What became Blount International had offices in 130 countries before Mr. Blount sold it in 1999 for a reported $1.35 billion and retired.

Mr. Blount has long been active in civic, cultural and charitable work. He gave away tens of millions of dollars, including $10 million to the Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum in 1999. He also was a supporter of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

His charitable and civic work brought him numerous honors, including the National Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and a Papal Gold Medal. Other organizations that honored him included the Boy Scouts of America, the National Governors Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 1964, Mr. Blount served on President Johnson's National Citizens Committee for Community Relations.

Survivors include his wife, five children and two stepchildren.

Winton Malcolm Blount, in undated photo, oversaw the Post Office's transition into the Postal Service.