Lawrence G. Foster, 88, guided Johnson & Johnson's response to the 1982 Tylenol poisonings.

Posted: October 22, 2013

BACK IN 1982, the nation was terrorized by the Tylenol poison scare.

Although the fatal poisonings of seven people, including a 12-year-old girl, from taking cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules were confined to the Chicago area, repercussions were felt everywhere.

Johnson & Johnson, parent company of McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the drug's manufacturer, pulled 32 million packages of Tylenol off the shelves of stores throughout the nation, taking a huge nose-dive in profits as a result.

Johnson & Johnson was widely praised for its prompt response to the crisis, for putting the public welfare ahead of company profits, and being frank and open with the press.

And one man was given a large share of the credit for that response. Lawrence G. Foster, a former New Jersey newspaperman, was the public-relations executive for Johnson & Johnson who guided the company's reaction to the tragedy.

Foster, an active alumnus of Penn State University, a much-honored public-relations executive, and author of books about Johnson & Johnson and its founder, Robert Wood Johnson, died Thursday. He was 88.

Foster, who graduated from Penn State in 1948, was a university trustee and one of the founders of the highly regarded Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, a research center dedicated to the study and advancement of ethics and responsibility in corporate communications.

He was also president of the school's alumni association. He was often honored by Penn State, including with the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Lion's Paw Medal.

As a student, Foster was managing editor of the Daily Collegian and a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

He was a reporter, bureau chief and night editor of the Newark News, covering some of New Jersey's tumultuous politics of the '50s.

In 1957, he joined Johnson & Johnson and helped form the company's first public-relations department. He was director of public relations before becoming corporate vice president of public relations, the position he held when he retired in 1990.

In retirement, Foster wrote the biography of Robert Wood Johnson, titled Robert Wood Johnson: The Gentleman Rebel, published in 1999.

He previously wrote A Company That Cares, the 100-year history of Johnson & Johnson, in 1986. He also was the author of Robert Wood Johnson and His Credo: A Living Legacy, in 2008.

Among Foster's other honors was the coveted Alexander Hamilton Medal of the Institute for Public Relations in 2007. PR Week magazine named Foster one of the 10 most influential public-relations executives of the 20th century.

Foster was a native of Rutherford, N.J., where he graduated from St. Mary's High School. He married the former Ellen Miller in 1949.

Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Cynthia Falck and Nanci Carlson; three sons, David L., Gregg M. and Lawrence G. Foster III; a brother, Kenneth A. Foster; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. today at the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity, 3154 1st St., Westfield, N.J. Burial will be private.

Donations may be made to the Central PA Food Bank, 3908 Corey Road, Harrisburg Pa., 17109.

comments powered by Disqus