Ardath Rodale, Former Publishing-Company Chairman, Dies at 81

Mother of CEO Maria Rodale Joined Family Business in 1956

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NEW YORK ( -- Former Rodale chairman and CEO Ardath Harter Rodale died on Dec. 18, the company said. She was 81.

Ardath Harter Rodale
Ardath Harter Rodale
"We are very sad to say goodbye to an amazing woman, and more importantly, to our mother and the grandmother to our children," said Maria Rodale, one of Ardath's daughters and the company's current chairman and CEO, in a statement.

Ardath "Ardie" Harter was born Oct. 17, 1928, and became a member of the Rodale family in June 1951, when she married Robert Rodale, son of company founder J.I. Rodale. She joined Rodale Inc. in 1956, gradually assuming authority over the company's headquarters in Emmaus, Pa.

"As the company added new facilities and buildings in the 1960s, Bob would ask for advice on what color to paint the walls," the official family history, "Our Roots Grow Deep," says. "But Ardie wanted to do more than give advice: 'Not only am I going to decide the color, but you're going to sign this piece of paper saying that from here on out, I will decide all the colors,' she said."

Ms. Rodale worked without pay for many years, she told the Chicago Tribune years later. "Finally, she convinced her husband -- who didn't want his wife to work -- that she was entitled to monetary compensation," the Tribune reported.

As director of facilities, Ms. Rodale renovated buildings with energy-saving designs wherever possible, following the company's spirit of environmental responsibility. She became chairman and CEO in 1990 after her husband, Robert, died in a car accident in Moscow. During her time at the helm, Rodale introduced "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies" and expanded further internationally.

Ms. Rodale was succeeded as CEO in 2002 by Stephen Pleshette Murphy and as chairman in 2007 by Maria Rodale.

Outside the office, Ms. Rodale became an activist in the fight against AIDS after the death of her son David in 1985. She joined the Harvard AIDS Institute's International Advisory Committee and published a memoir, "Climbing Toward the Light," that partly dealt with finding meaning in her son's death.

She is survived by two siblings, Joy Robinson and James Harter; children Heather, Heidi, Maria and Anthony Rodale; and eleven grandchildren.

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