Trustee Emeritus John H. Bryan Jr., former chairman and chief executive of Sara Lee Corp. and a revered civic leader in Chicago, died Oct. 1. He was 81 years old.
Bryan was elected to the University of Chicago Board of Trustees in 1986. In 2006, he was elected a Life Trustee and was named Trustee Emeritus in 2007.
Bryan was born and grew up in Mississippi, becoming involved with his family’s specialty meat business after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern at Memphis, which is now Rhodes College. His family’s company was acquired in the late 1960s by Consolidated Foods Corp., which went on to become Sara Lee Corp. Bryan was named chief executive officer of Consolidated Foods in 1975 and became chairman the following year, transforming the company over the next three decades.
In Chicago, Bryan played a prominent role as a civic leader, particularly in the arts and the development of the city’s Millennium Park. An avid art collector, Bryan served as chairman of the board of trustees of The Art Institute of Chicago and led a fundraising campaign to renovate Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and Lyric Opera House. Bryan was chairman of Millennium Park, Inc., serving as a critical leader in the development of what would become a Chicago landmark.
Bryan, who retired from Sara Lee in 2001, served as a member of the board of directors of General Motors Corp, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and BP. He was a life trustee of Rush Medical Center and a member of numerous civic boards and clubs over his career.
Bryan is survived by his wife of 60 years, Neville; two sons, John and Charles; two daughters, Margaret Bryan French and Elizabeth Bryan Seebeck; 13 grandchildren; one great-grandson; a brother, George; and a sister, Caroline Harrell.
A memorial service will be held Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. at the Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a reception on the stage at the Pritzker Pavilion. In keeping with UChicago Board tradition, a memorial resolution in honor of Bryan will be presented at the Board meeting in November.