Local News

Progress Energy CEO McGehee Dies

Posted October 9, 2007 9:45 a.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2007 5:15 p.m. EDT

— Robert McGehee, 64, chairman and chief executive officer of Progress Energy, died early Tuesday of a stroke, the company said.

McGehee suffered the stroke in London on Sunday. He was in the United Kingdom on business, planning to meet with investors on Tuesday.

The news stunned Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN) where he had been CEO since March 2004 and chairman since May 2004. He joined the company in 1997.

“Bob was an avid exerciser and in very good shape,” company spokesman Mike Hughes said. “He often ran and walked.”

McGehee was apparently on a walk by himself when the stroke occurred, Hughes said.

He underwent surgery Sunday at Charing Cross Hospital but did not regain consciousness, the company said in a statement.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker called McGehee "a quiet, thoughtful leader who applied his intelligence and insight to strengthening Progress Energy."

"He cared very much about the development of downtown, that' we'd really have the economic strength there. He was most interested in the cultural side," Meeker said.

McGehee was instrumental in building a new headquarters building for Progress Energy downtown and for the company's $5.6 million sponsorship of the Performing Arts Center.

Meeker said he would sit down with McGehee at quarterly meetings to discuss downtown's renaissance.

"He would talk about how much he enjoyed the improved Fayetteville Street, that that was just a complete turnaround from where it had been a couple years ago," the mayor said.

"He's given back so much to North Carolina, especially the Triangle," Gov. Mike Easley said. "He'll be known as a gentleman who did things the right way and still made it to the top and was loved the whole time. That's a pretty good legacy."

William Johnson, Progress Energy's president and chief operating officer, assumed McGehee’s responsibilities on Monday.

John Mullin, a member of the board of directors, was named acting chairman. Mullin, chairman of Ridgeway Farm, a farming and timber management firm, has been a member of the board since 1999.

McGehee graduated from the Naval Academy in 1966 and served as a nuclear engineer aboard a ballistic missile submarine. He later earned a law degree at the University of Texas.

He joined Carolina Power & Light, Progress Energy's predecessor company, as senior vice president and general counsel. He was chairman of the board of a law firm in Jackson, Miss., before joining CP&L.

"Bob McGehee's life and his tenure as our company's CEO and chairman have been cut painfully short, but the list of his contributions to Progress Energy, its customers, employees and shareholders was long and outstanding," Mullin said in a statement. "Bob was a rare person who combined vision and strength of character with a humble and generous spirit. Under Bob's leadership, the company has shaped a new strategic direction, while maintaining its tradition of operational excellence. We are all deeply saddened by his loss but are committed to sustaining the positive momentum that Bob created."

McGehee had been expected to retire next spring, and company recently reviewed and approved a succession plan, Progress Energy said in a statement. The board will meet on Friday to implement the succession plan.

McGehee is survived by his wife, Jolene; his father; one brother; four children; and two grandchildren.

Hughes said McGehee would be remembered as someone who took care of the little things as well as the big picture.

"One of the first handwritten letters that I received when I returned from my father's funeral was from Bob," Hughes said. "(He was) a genuinely decent, generous man, a true Southern gentleman. (He will be) sorely, sorely missed."