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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

C&H Sugar executive Robert Nagle, 77

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Robert Owen Nagle

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Robert Owen Nagle spent his first day as president and chief executive officer of California & Hawaiian Sugar Co. in 1976 speaking one-on-one to each of the company's employees.

"He approached everything as an outsider looking in," said his daughter, Emmy-award winning screenwriter Margaret Nagle of Santa Monica, Calif.

Her father, who died Dec. 12 at his Piedmont, Calif., home, was 77.

"My father was a forward-thinking man ... who knew that if he was to save the company, he would need to talk to people who had the answers," she said.

Nagle had come to C&H from archrival Amstar Corp., which distributed Spreckles sugar in the West and Domino east of the Mississippi, where he had been a vice president.

In 1965, Nagle represented Amstar in a winning lawsuit against C&H.

Nagle accepted the position with San Francisco-based C&H, a refining/marketing cooperative owned by 14 Hawaiian sugar plantations, as a challenge, his daughter said.

"It was privately owned by people who were not living in the real world and didn't see the changes of what was coming," Margaret Nagle said.

Nagle guided C&H through hard times as inroads by fructose corn syrup challenged sugar. By 1980, the company saw an 80 percent rise in income.

His mission accomplished, Nagle left C&H in 1981 to pursue other interests.

Nagle's vision and desire for challenges led to other successful ventures.

As a member of the board of trustees of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Nagle was instrumental in establishing WiCell, a nonprofit subsidiary created to support human embryonic stem cell research on the UW-Madison campus, his daughter said.

"He helped to acquire burgeoning technologies for the school to create a self-sustaining legacy," she said. "This thought process is going to sustain the school a lot longer than a building."

For the past 30 years, Nagle and his wife, the former Louise H'Doubler, were actively involved with the Creative Growth Center in Oakland, the world's first independent visual art center for adults with developmental, physical, mental and emotional disabilities.

Their son, Charles, is a prominent outsider artist whose coil sculptures have been sold and displayed in galleries throughout the United States.

Nagle was also a decorated war hero.

The recipient of a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, Korean Service Medal with three Battle Stars for heroism, and a recent award from the president of South Korea for his service, Nagle served as a U.S. Marine Corps forward observer during the Korean War.

"He was responsible for clandestine activities that involved going ashore in North Korea and radioing coordinates for the guidance of ship's batteries (that led to) several key victories," his daughter said.

Born in Watertown, S.D., her father worked on the railroad at age 9 and "pretty much grew up without a family," Margaret Nagle said. He led the Brookings High School basketball team to its first South Dakota state championship and earned a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.

After being discharged from military service in 1954, Nagle earned his law degree at the University of California-Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, graduating magna cum laude.

Nagle's survivors include his wife; sons, Robert O. Jr. Charles; a daughter, who won her Emmy for the HBO movie "Warm Springs"; two grandchildren; and two stepgrandchildren.

The family has not finalized plans for a January memorial service in Oakland.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.