This obituary is part of a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.
Peter Secchia rarely bragged about his success, but he often marveled at it.
When he was 25, he went to work as a salesperson for a lumber company that made $ 1 million annually. He eventually became managing director and turned it into a global conglomerate, with annual sales of $ 1.6 billion when he retired in 2002.
Building on his financial success, he became a major donor to his alma mater, Michigan State University, and a civic leader and philanthropist in his adopted hometown of Grand Rapids and neighboring western Michigan.
As a prominent Republican contributor and fundraiser, Mr. Secchia (pronounced SUCK-ee-uh) has also become a confidant of two presidents.
Under the guidance of Gerald R. Ford, he provided Midwestern house advice as a “chubby, chunky Grand Rapids lumber salesman wearing jeans and a flannel shirt to the White House.” Under George HW Bush, he served as Ambassador to Italy and San Marino from 1989 to 1993.
Returning to the United States, he became president of his company, Universal Forest Products. In 2002, he took on the title of Chairman of the Board of Directors of what is now known as UFP Industries.
He had faced several health issues and was receiving nursing care at home when he contracted Covid-19. He died on October 21 at his home in Grand Rapids, a family spokesperson said. He was 83 years old.
His wife was later hospitalized for the illness, but was recovering.
Mr. Secchia was only 20 years old when he met Mr. Ford, who was campaigning for re-election to his congressional seat in Grand Rapids. Mr. Secchia was elected chairman of the Kent County Republican Committee and became a major fundraiser for local and national candidates and for the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.
In an interview with the Gerald R. Ford Foundation in 2008, Mr. Secchia recalled Mr. Ford’s foreknowledge in a frank conversation in the White House shortly after pardoning former President Richard M. Nixon.
“I had to do it, and it will cost me the 1976 election, but I had to do it,” Secchia said, citing Ford.
Peter Finley Secchia was born on April 15, 1937 in Englewood, NJ, the son of Cesare Secchia, accountant for a car dealership known as Charlie, and Valerie (Smith) Secchia. He grew up in nearby Demarest.
After graduating from Tenafly High School, he enrolled at Michigan State University. But he gave up when the part-time job wasn’t covering his expenses and enlisted in the Marines. He served in Beirut, then returned to college and received a degree in economics in 1963. (He and his wife would donate millions of dollars to establish the headquarters of the College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids.)
In 1962, he joined Universal Forest Products as a salesperson. He bought control of the company in 1971 and held the position of Managing Director until 1989.
Mr. Secchia, who has also invested in outlets and restaurants, was “known as much for his irascible manners as for his generosity, humor and contempt for political correctness,” the company said in a statement after his dead.
In addition to his wife, Joan (Peterson) Secchia, whom he married in 1964, he is survived by two daughters, Stephanie Oehler and Sandy Aslanian; two sons, Charlie and Mark; 11 grandchildren; and a sister, Gail Secchia.