Stanley M. Rumbough Jr., an entrepreneur, distinguished veteran, philanthropist, activist and longtime civic leader, died Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, at his Palm Beach home. He was 97.
Mr. Rumbough was a Palm Beach Civic Association director for more than 40 years. He was co-chairman for 10 years and CEO from 2005 to 2009, when he led the association’s policy-making executive committee.
Rumbough, heir to the Colgate-Palmolive fortune, was married in 1946 to actress Dina Merrill, daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post who died in May. They later divorced.
“Stan loved Palm Beach,” said Civic Association President Ned Barnes. “He was dedicated to making the town a better place. He had countless friends, including me. I feel so grateful to have known this extraordinary man.”
Born April 25, 1920, in New York, he was the son of Lt. Colonel (later Colonel) Stanley Maddox Rumbough and Elizabeth Morse Colgate, the great-granddaughter of the founder of the company that became Colgate-Palmolive.
At Yale University, Mr. Rumbough edited the college’s humor magazine before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in American history in 1942. He attended the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration from 1947-51.
A decorated U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot who flew more than 50 missions during World War II, Mr. Rumbough earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight air medals.
Mr. Rumbough lived in Palm Beach for nearly a half-century. He once told an interviewer that when he first visited Palm Beach in 1940, it was “love at first sight.” Once he decided to make the jungled island his home, he immediately became active in the community.
He played a key role in the development of the Civic Association, whose mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life on the island. Mr. Rumbough was among a group who pushed for the organization to take a more proactive approach to solving town problems.
“He is a man of deep convictions - a very inclusive man who has reached out to virtually every group within Palm Beach,” the late William Guttman, who immediately preceded Mr. Rumbough as the association’s chief officer, said in 2005. “He is a good listener and a good delegator.”
Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of the Civic Association since 2010, said Mr. Rumbough persuaded him to get involved with the organization, proposing him as a board member after the two met about 15 years ago.
“He was just a remarkable person and had a wonderful life,” Wright said. “He did so many things and touched people in a positive way.”
Mr. Rumbough received numerous honors for his civic and charitable contributions, including the 2010 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Pride of Palm Beach Award from the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Community Service award from the Palm Beach Civic Association, and the Distinguished Community Citizen Award from the Town of Palm Beach United Way.
“Stan Rumbough embodies all of the qualities that this award represents, through his spirit of philanthropy, volunteerism and community leadership,” said Daniel Ponton, who with Patricia Cook served as chairman of that year’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society Campaign.
Mr. Rumbough was active in GOP politics and founded the Citizens for Eisenhower group, a grass-roots movement that helped propel Dwight Eisenhower into the White House. He worked in the White House from 1953-56 as special assistant to the president, where he organized the Executive Branch Liaison Office.
A businessman and investor, he was a founder, chief executive officer or director of more than 40 companies in the United States, West Indies and Mexico.
In a 2005 interview, Mr. Rumbough said he was fortunate enough to come from a privileged background and to have parents who instilled values of hard work, service to others and enjoying life.
He took his first steps into the business world in 1945, after returning home to New York City following V-J Day. Rumbough and pal Charlie Willis started a small air freight company based in New Jersey, using surplus DC3s and DC4s. The two enterprising young men helped load cattle onto their planes bound from New Jersey to South America.
“Why not?” Rumbough laughed. “We wanted to make a living.”
Not long after, they sold the company and “did very well,” he said.
It was the first of many companies that would take flight under Rumbough’s vision. Other ventures, not all successful, included a burglar alarm company in Mexico City, a flour mill in Trinidad, food companies, packaging companies, collapsible aluminum tubes and a lot more.
He was the president and director of Planned Parenthood of the Palm Beach Area for almost 20 years until 1995, when he became honorary director.
Mr. Rumbough was also active in the U.S. Committee for the United Nations, for which he served as chairman; the Foreign Policy Association, the Population Resource Center, the USLTA Davis Cup Policy Committee, International House in New York; and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, where he was a life trustee.
Laurel Baker, executive director of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, met Mr. Rumbough 40 years ago when she became a board member at Planned Parenthood. The two remained friends, lunching together as recently as a few months ago.
“He has been an extraordinary person in my life - his ability to see the world the way it is and appreciate every day that he had,” Baker said.
As the years advanced and his health declined, Mr. Rumbough remained engaged with friends and the community. “He didn’t have a selfish motive in his caring,” Baker said. “There will never be another one like him. He didn’t hang on to history. He believed in the future. That’s why he was an entrepreneur.”
Mr. Rumbough was a lifelong tennis enthusiast who played for Yale and later played in men’s doubles competition at Wimbledon. An avid golfer, he co-held the amateur course record at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club with a 68 that he scored in 1959.
He and his wife, Janna Harlow, a champion dressage rider, divided their time between homes in Palm Beach and East Hampton. The couple married in 1990.
An earlier marriage to Nedenia Hutton, the daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post and E.F. Hutton and known professionally as the actress Dina Merrill, ended in divorce.
Mr. Rumbough was a member of the Bath & Tennis, Everglades and Beach clubs in Palm Beach; the Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach; the Maidstone Club in East Hampton and the National Golf Links in Southampton; and the Racquet & Tennis Club in New York.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Rumbough is survived by his children Stanley Hutton Rumbough of Palm Beach and New York, and Nedenia “Nina” Colgate Rumbough Roosenburg of Bray’s Island, S.C.; stepchildren Kai Christian Janson and Karina Janson Fitz; and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his son, David, and by his sister, Elizabeth van Norden.
A private memorial service and a celebration of life will be held at a later date.