Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Juliette Moran, a chemist whose 39-year career with GAF Corp. took her to levels of corporate leadership reached by few women of her generation, has died. She was 96.
Her death, at her Manhattan home on Oct. 20, was by intentional starvation and dehydration, the culmination of a carefully thought-out plan to manage the end of her life, according to her niece, Nancy Granlund.
“She basically stopped eating and drinking because her body was worn out and she decided enough was enough,” Granlund said yesterday in an interview. “She was a project manager, and her death was another project.”
Like many other women of her time, Moran found opportunity in the U.S. workplace when men were overseas fighting in World War II. She joined GAF in 1943, when it was General Aniline & Film Corp., a New York-based chemical maker. Today, the company is based in Wayne, New Jersey, and makes roofing products.
“I would never have been hired as a chemist if there had been a man in sight,” she recalled, according to a 1978 article in Fortune magazine.
Far less typical was Moran’s rise from chemist to administrator to senior manager under Jesse Werner, GAF’s longtime chairman. She was one of two executive vice presidents of the company in the 1970s and, in 1974, joined the board of directors. In 1980, at age 63, she was named to the newly created position of vice chairman.
“My being a woman has been basically unimportant in any job I have held,” she said, according to a 1971 profile by Copley News Service. She said her gender had kept her only from gaining admission to an industry association, which later relented and let her in, and two private men-only clubs.
“This kind of thing is merely a matter of ignorance and lack of thought,” she said. “If people simply would look at people as individual human beings, we would have a lot less of this kind of nonsense.”
In 1979, Moran was among five female members of boards of major corporations who were honored by Catalyst, the New York-based national nonprofit group founded in 1962 by Felice Schwartz to promote and assist women in their careers. Moran said women in the boardroom need to balance frankness and manners, according to a story in the New York Times.
“I think that women in general who have made it to this point have got to be women who will stand up for what they believe in,” she said, according to the Times. “But on the other hand, you have to be polite, and say what you have to say so you achieve your objective without destroying yourself.”
The Times also reported that of the five honorees, only Moran would divulge her salary at that time -- $125,000.
Moran, who retired in 1982, “was a woman ahead of her time,” Granlund said. “She was fun, she was witty, she loved French wine, she was a foodie.”
She never married, though she said her focus on her career had nothing to do with that.
“Even if I were a secretary at Woolworth’s,” she told the Times, “I’d still be as intolerable as I am now.”
Juliette May Moran was born on June 12, 1917, in New York City, the second child of James Moran and the former Louise Marks. Her father died when she was 6, and the family lived for a time with her mother’s family in Paris.
It was there, said Granlund -- who is the daughter of Moran’s older brother, James -- that she declared her desire to become a chemist.
“And my French grandmother, who had no idea what a chemist was, said, ‘OK, if that’s what you want to be, you can be one,” Granlund said.
Moran’s interest in the subject was cemented when she was a student in New York City’s public schools.
“For the first time, an orderly universe was being revealed to me,” the Copley profile quoted Moran as saying. “I found out that everything in life was made up of chemistry.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1939 from New College, a short-lived unit of Columbia University. She worked in the book department of Macy’s department store, then took a series of research jobs, including one with the U.S. Army Signal Corps that required a security clearance, according to Fortune.
In joining GAF, Moran turned down a competing offer that required another security clearance; she later learned it was with the Manhattan Project, the top-secret U.S. effort to build the atomic bomb.
At GAF, Moran’s work on budgets led her away from hands-on chemistry and into administration, what she called “the big change in my business life -- or what turned it into a business life,” she told Fortune.
She received her master’s degree in chemistry from New York University in 1948.
In the 1950s she worked alongside Werner, then director of commercial development, in marketing vinyl derivatives and polymers, according to a 2007 article in the Bulletin for the History of Chemistry.
By the 1970s, she was executive vice president in charge of corporate communications. She traveled the globe in that capacity and made use of her ability to speak several languages, her niece said. She also served as president of GAF Broadcasting Co., a unit of GAF that ran classical-music stations, including WNCN-FM in New York.
Moran is survived by two nieces -- Granlund, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Jill Rivers, of Poughkeepsie, New York.
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