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Harrison McCain, 76; built empire based on frozen fries

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick -- Harrison McCain, a New Brunswick farm boy who became the king of the frozen french fry, died Thursday at the Lahey Clinic in Boston after a long illness. He was 76.

Mr. McCain made his home in Florenceville, New Brunswick, a sleepy farming community that he and his younger brother, Wallace, transformed into the command center for one of the world's largest frozen food companies. Mr. McCain and his brother started McCain Foods Ltd. in 1956; today, it employs 13,000 people in dozens of processing plants on four continents, with annual sales of at least $6 billion.

McCain has a plant in Easton, Maine, where it has 470 employees.

The company is considered to be the single largest buyer of Maine potatoes. McCain Foods is the world's undisputed french fry king and produces one-third of the frozen french fries globally.

Harrison McCain was the bulldog of the company. Pugnacious and tough, he was regarded by some as a brash and unpleasant egomaniac. Others saw him as a true captain of industry, a no-nonsense business genius who commanded respect around the world.

When asked to describe the secret of his success, he barked back, "Right place, right time. Next question."

For Harrison McCain, that was an effusive answer. Typically, he'd tell reporters that his business was none of their business.

Such jealously guarded privacy ended, however, in the mid-1990s, when a bitter succession feud between the brothers boiled over into the courts and the public domain.

Mr. McCain was livid after his brother unilaterally named his son, Michael, chief executive of McCain USA in 1990.

After a litigation war that cost $20 million in legal fees and assorted expenses, Wallace McCain was ousted from his job in 1994.

There was never a reconciliation. Mr. McCain carried his grudge against his brother and his brother's family to his death bed.

Mr. McCain named his nephew, Allison McCain, son of his late brother Andrew, as his successor in 2002. Mr. McCain's wife Marion, died in 1995. His son, Peter, the president of McCain Foods International, died in 1997 after crashing his snowmobile during a late-night outing on the family air strip in Florenceville.

Mr. McCain leaves four children, Mark, Ann, Laura, and Gillian, and several grandchildren.

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