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Stater Bros.' Brown dies at 78

Longtime CEO noted for community outreach, service

Jack H. Brown, the longtime CEO of Stater Bros. Markets and an influential 65-year veteran of the supermarket industry noted for his generosity and support for local charities, passed away Sunday at age 78, the company said Monday.

Brown had served as president and CEO of San Bernardino, Calif.-based Stater Bros. for 35 years and as its chairman for 30 before passing the CEO title to Pete Van Helden earlier this year and serving since as the chain's executive chairman. Under his watch, Stater Bros. grew to a $4.2 billion company with 168 stores known for their service and attention to local community tastes.

“Grief is not a strong enough word to describe what the Stater Bros. family feels,” Van Helden said in a statement. “Jack touched every one of us in a very personal way, and it is that legacy that we must carry forward. He loved the business, his company and each one of us."

Brown was a proud U.S. Navy veteran who served on active duty with the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy during the Vietnam era and was an unparalleled supporter of the U.S. military and fellow veterans, the company said. In 2004, he received the “Friend of the Veteran Award” from the Riverside National Cemetery’s Veterans’ Advisory Committee for his continued support of volunteer services to veterans and their families. Brown also received the “Patriot Award” in 2011, the highest award the Congressional Medal of Honor Society can bestow upon an individual.

Brown was one of 10 distinguished Americans to receive the 1992 Horatio Alger Award in Washington, D.C., in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the “American Dream.”

Brown has received countless awards for his contributions to the supermarket industry. In 2001, Brown received the California Grocers Association Hall of Achievement Award for a lifetime of dedication to the grocery industry, and in 2005, he received the prestigious Sidney R. Rabb Award from Food Marketing Institute, the trade organization's highest award. Stater Bros. was named SN's Community Service Award winner in 2010.

Earlier this year FMI honored Brown with its Glen P. Woodward Award for Public Affairs, and the University of California at San Bernardino named its College of Business after Brown after receiving what the company called the largest single gift in the history of institution from Brown.

A native of San Bernardino, Brown began his supermarket career as a box boy at Berk’s Market Spot in San Bernardino at the age of 13. Following his stint in the military he served leadership roles with a variety of companies including Sage's Complete Markets, Marsh Supermarkets, Pantry Markets and Hinky Dinky. He joined Stater Bros. in 1981.

In 1983, Brown survived a proxy fight with New York investors who tried to buy out Brown's ownership stake in the chain. Brown also steered Stater Bros. through a tumultuous strike-lockout affecting Southern California grocers in 2003 and 2004.

Brown is survived by his wife Debbie, and three daughters: J. Kathleen Smith (Michael Smith), Cara Hoffman (Scott Hoffman) and Melissa Koss (Pete Koss). He had seven grandchildren: Kaitlyn, Colleen, Caden, Dylan, Julianna, Jack Ryan and Emma. His burial will be private for family only with a memorial to follow at a later date.

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