Former Walgreen Co. president and chief operating officer Fred Canning has died after battling complications from prostate cancer. He was 85.


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Canning, former Walgreens COO, dies at 85

July 20th, 2009
Fred Canning

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Former Walgreen Co. president and chief operating officer Fred Canning has died after battling complications from prostate cancer. He was 85.

After returning from World War II, Canning took a job as a Walgreens stock clerk, making 49 cents an hour while studying to be a pharmacist in the evening.
He became a registered pharmacist, and in 1955 was named store manager for the company’s Champaign, Ill., outlet.

He quickly moved up the ranks, becoming district manager, regional director, director of marketing, vice president of Walgreens’ drug store division and senior vice president.

In 1978 Canning was named president and chief operating officer.

During his tenure as president, Walgreens experienced unprecedented growth and became the preeminent drug chain in America.

“Fred was a true, supportive friend, key in building a cohesive team that would clear the way for future company expansion,” says Charles (Cork) Walgreen III. “We wouldn’t have known the growth we had without Fred Canning.

“Our stockholders never had a better ally. He was always there when we needed him, and he left us a wonderful guidepost to follow.”

Early in 1985 The Wall Street Transcript named Canning and Walgreen the best executives for retail drug chains, which was an honor they received seven times over the decade.

Canning refocused Walgreens, which had diversified into discount stores and restaurants, on its core competency of running drug stores.

Canning was a humble man. The hallmark of his career was the management team he assembled and the leadership he provided to leverage their collective strengths.

As Canning stated: “I’m one of a team. No single person turns a company around. You don’t win a game if you don’t have the players, and we have the players — many of them unsung heroes making big contributions.

“I’m especially proud of our management group — I see integrity, conviction and
dedication.”

Canning retired from Walgreens in 1990, but not before laying the foundation for the company’s dramatic expansion in that decade.

Canning is survived by his wife of 64 years, Margaret; his eight children; 21 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A devout Catholic, Canning attended daily mass at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest, Ill.

“Not only will his former co-workers miss him, but my family and I have lost a dear and loyal friend,” Walgreen says. “We send our deepest condolences to his beloved wife Margaret and to their eight children: Jeannette, Laura, Debbie, Terry, Patrick, Margie, Tim and Kathleen.”

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