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Former U.S. ambassador, GR philanthropist Peter Secchia dies at 83

COVID-19 was a contributing factor in his death
Posted at 1:13 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 13:52:10-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Former U.S. ambassador and West Michigan businessman and philanthropist Peter F. Secchia has passed away.

He was 83 years old.

A spokesperson for the Secchia family confirmed with FOX 17 that Secchia had recently contracted COVID-19, which was a contributing factor to his death.

Secchia died peacefully at home, where he had been receiving nursing care after battling health problems for months.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Peter F. Secchia, our beloved husband, father and grandfather, passed away this morning at the age of 83," said Peter's wife Joan Secchia in statement. "Throughout his life, Peter was firmly committed to his family, his business, his community and his country. His presence in all will be deeply missed."

SEE MORE: Photos: Peter Secchia's influence on West Michigan

Mr. Secchia was born April 15th, 1937, and while he may have grown up in New Jersey, it was Michigan that he called home.

After a three-year stint in the U.S. Marines, Mr. Secchia earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1962, majoring in economics.

He went right into the workforce, landing a position at the wholesale lumber business: Universal Forest Products.

During an interview in 2014, Mr. Secchia said, “I thought I was going to be a star; I’d graduated from college. You kids know about this, right? You get a suit, you get a vest, you get a hat, you get a briefcase, you show up, and nobody pays any attention to you.”

Just one year later, he married his wife, Joan, who also attended MSU, studying elementary education.

The pair went on to have four children whom they raised in Grand Rapids.

SEE MORE: West Michigan reacts to passing of Peter Secchia

Joan became a teacher, while Mr. Secchia grew his successful business career, eventually purchasing 51-percent of Universal Forest Products.

Mr. Secchia said, “I was able to buy into a very small company, and my first employee was Bill Curry in the winter of 1971.”

Mr. Secchia also owned River City Foods, which included dozens of restaurants in catering facilities. He also launched SIBSCO, a small real estate company in the 1980s to help teach his kids about business principles and financial investments.

From 1989 to 1993, he served as the United States Ambassador to Italy, under President George H. W. Bush.

Throughout his life, he supported many Republican causes, serving as chairman of the 1985 Republican National Committee Midwest Leadership Conference in Grand Rapids and was National co-chair of the “Bob Dole for President” campaign.

Mr. Secchia also served on the executive committee of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, furthering the career and values of his dear friend and former president, Gerald R. Ford; a man whose praises he sang long after his passing his 2006.

SEE MORE: Interactive map: Peter Secchia's influence on West Michigan

He also shared that same affection and appreciation for President Ford’s wife, Betty, who died in 2011.

When interviewed about her death, Mr. Secchia said, “If you had a friend or you had a grandma or you had someone that you wanted the family to look up to, that would be Betty Ford. Not only did she speak her mind, but she was a teacher. She taught us all by going public with some of the issues, and she always loved us all, and she'll be missed."

Throughout his life, Mr. Secchia and his wife supported numerous philanthropic endeavors, including a project that put bronze statues throughout Grand Rapids, paying tribute to fixtures in the community.

The Secchia family also made it a point to support the growth of Michigan State University, including a $1-million donation for a new women’s softball stadium in 2010.

That same year, MSU’s School of Medicine, The Secchia Center, opened on the Medical Mile, and later expanded to the old Grand Rapids Press building.

“This is gonna bring so much to our community. It makes our vibrant downtown vibrant for the next 10 years,” Secchia said.

Whether it was charity, politics or business, those who knew Mr. Secchia say there was also something to learn from him.

Due to current restrictions on gatherings, the family is planning a private service of remembrance.

Memorial contributions may be directed to the Kent County Parks Foundation – Millennium Park, the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center or the Peter F. Secchia Endowed Scholarship at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.