Len Matthews helped shape advertising industry in the U.S.
Len Matthews was a titan of the advertising profession in America for decades. Under his leadership endearing symbols such as “the Jolly Green Giant,” “the Pillsbury Dough Boy” and “Tony the Tiger” were created. He died in San Diego on May 31 at age 87.
His son Jim Matthews said the cause of death was pneumonia.
In 1981, U. S. News & World Report named Matthews among the United States’ “most influential persons.” In addition to his impressive 28-year career at Leo Burnett Worldwide Advertising Agency, based in Chicago, Matthews was also a president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, or The Four A’s, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Ford Administration.
Matthews moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 1990.
In 1998, he was inducted in the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame.
During Matthews’ 28-year career, from 1948 to 1975, at Burnett he worked with companies such as Allstate Insurance, Green Giant Foods, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Pillsbury and United Airlines. When Matthews joined Burnett in 1948 as a marketing analyst, it was billing $12 million. When he left in 1975 as its president, the company billed $600 million.
When, in 1975, Matthews took a sabbatical to join President Ford’s cabinet as assistant Secretary of Commerce, he described the experience as a “crash course in international trade, which compressed four years experience into one.”
In 1977, he returned to advertising as president of Young & Rubicam in New York. There he managed a group of 10 subsidiaries providing a variety of marketing services to hundreds of U.S. companies.
As president of The Four A’s from 1979 to 1989, he built and maintained relationships within the advertising industry, not only in the United States but in all free-market countries and more than doubled the size of its membership.
In 1984, he led the initiation of the Partnership for a Drug-free America. He expanded its services to members, took an activist role in government relations and increased cooperation among the profession’s organizations - the American Advertising Federation and the Association of National Advertisers.
Matthews also served as a director of the Advertising Council, the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Consumer Research Institute. He served on the boards of a Chicago-area Boys Club, the Chicago Educational Television Association and the Wheatridge Foundation.
In 1990, Matthews moved to Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego, where until his death, he lent his wealth of experience in various consultative endeavors including Capener, Matthews & Walcher, a full-service, downtown San Diego advertising firm run by his son Jim, known today as Matthews | Evans | Albertazzi Inc.
Len Matthews was born January 6, 1922, in Glen Dean, Ky. He was the eldest of seven children born to Clell Matthews and Zetta Sarver Matthews of Falls of Rough, Ky. He was married for 67 years to Dorothy F. Matthews, 87, also of Rancho Santa Fe.
Matthews attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., then was graduated Summa Cum Laude at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he earned a B.S. in Business.
From 1943 to ’46, he was an Ensign with the United States Coast Guard and served on a Landing Ship, Tank in the Philippines in WWII.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, daughter Nancy Ulrich of La Costa, and sons Jim Matthews of Del Mar and Douglas Matthews of Sherman Oaks.
He also leaves ten grandchildren: David, Amy, Elizabeth and Jonathan Ulrich, and James Jr., Taylor, Charles, Chase, Daniel and Julia Matthews.
Of Matthews’ siblings, he leaves brothers Russell of Warsaw, Ind., James of San Marcos and Edgar of Sterling, Ill., and sisters Reba Reed of Kokomo, Ind., and Anna Schulz of Olivenhain. His brother Joseph Matthews is deceased.
A memorial Web site in Len Matthews’ honor can be found at
A memorial service will be held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church located at 925 Balour Dr. in Encinitas on June 20 at 11 a.m. Those who knew and loved Len and Dottie Matthews, are invited to join a celebration of Len’s life at a reception at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe from 1 to 4 p.m.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests well wishers to make a donation to United Cerebral Palsy of San Diego, 8525 Gibbs Drive #100, San Diego, Calif., 92123 or go to
and click on “Support UCP.”