ΦBK member William E. Winter, the former chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the Seven-Up Company who led the development of the famous “Uncola” advertising campaign and pioneered corporate sponsorship of humanitarian causes, has died at age 95 after a long illness.
A native of Granite City, Illinois, Winter began a 59-year career with the Seven-Up Company when he was only 15 years old, working a summer job for his father, sales manager at the Seven-Up Bottling Company in Madison, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois in June 1942, earning Phi Beta Kappa distinction in Economics from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 to serve in World War Two, rising to the rank of captain.
In 1946, Winter returned to work at Seven-Up, rising from the position of sales promotion assistant at the company’s headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, to become vice president-director of marketing. In 1967, under his direction and working with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Seven-Up re-branded itself as the “Uncola” in a memorable, award-winning campaign that saw the company forge bonds with the Beatles and pop artist Peter Max, and take the then-innovative step of appointing a person of color – actor/ director/ choreographer Geoffrey Holder – as its spokesperson. It is considered one of the top 50 advertising campaigns of our time.
Under Winter’s guidance, Seven-Up also became a pioneer in cause-related marketing as the first corporate sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which lead to Winter’s regular appearances on Jerry Lewis’ annual MDA Telethon. He joined MDA’s board of directors and, in the words of former executive director Robert Ross, “quickly became one of MDA’s most valuable volunteer leaders.” As Jerry Lewis observed, “I never cease to be amazed by his compassion for helping others and his tremendous commitment to fight against neuromuscular disease.”
In 1974, Winter became Seven-Up’s president and chief executive officer. He was named chairman of the board in 1979. Upon retirement in 1982, he served as a board member and consultant to Seven-Up and, later, Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up Companies, Inc. He was named chairman emeritus in 1996.
Throughout his career, Winter was actively involved with the University of Illinois and philanthropic causes. He was a member of the University of Illinois President’s Council and a director of the University of Illinois Foundation, later honored with distinction as a life director. In recognition of his service, the Foundation established the William E. Winter Award for Outstanding Advocate Leadership in 1990.
Winter also contributed his talents to St. Louis-area causes, serving as director for the YMCA of Greater St. Louis and on the executive board of the St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America; as a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Granite City, Illinois, and lay leader at the Second Baptist Church of Greater St. Louis; and as council member and mayor of the City of Creve Coeur, Missouri.
Winter is survived by Mildred Stiebel Winter, his wife of 39 years; by his two sons by Dorothy Schuster Winter (d. 1976), William C. (Judy) of Wildwood, Missouri, and Douglas E. (Lynne) of Oakton, Virginia; and by five grandsons and 10 great-grandchildren.