Richard E. Cheney, Hill & Knowlton’s M&A Advice Guru, Dies at 94

Richard E. Cheney, a former Hill & Knowlton chairman who was among the first public relations executives to advise on mergers and acquisitions before resigning to practice psychoanalysis, has died. He was 94.

He died on Sept. 2 at his home in New York City after a long illness. His death was announced Sunday in an online notice.

Cheney, who was Hill & Knowlton chairman from 1987 to 1991, specialized in advising companies involved in M&A during a 33-year career at the New York-based public relations firm.

Shortly after joining the company in 1960, he was assigned to guide the Dallas-based brothers John and Clint Murchison in a successful proxy fight for Alleghany Corp., which controlled the New York Central Railroad and a group of investment funds. Cheney said his bosses tapped him for the deal because he had prior experience in financial public relations.

“No one else at the firm had worked on Wall Street,” he said, according to 1986 New York Times story. “I was the only one who knew the difference between a debenture and a manhole.”

In the 1980s, he helped Walt Disney Co. fend off corporate raider Saul Steinberg and advised billionaire T. Boone Pickens in a bid for Gulf Oil Corp., as well as Bendix Corp. in its attempt to acquire Martin Marietta Corp., according to the Times. In the 1970s, he assisted publisher Houghton Mifflin Co. to thwart a takeover by Western Pacific Industries Inc. and advised Foremost-McKesson Inc., a San Francisco-based drug and liquor distributor, in turning away investor Victor Posner.

Weekends Away

While Cheney, who is no relation to the former U.S. vice president, was working at Hill & Knowlton, he also attended the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, unbeknownst to colleagues and clients. For two years of his training, he spent Saturdays in a locked ward at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Parsippany, New Jersey.

In 1994, a year after resigning from Hill & Knowlton, by then a unit of London-based WPP Plc, the world’s largest advertising company, he began his career as a psychoanalyst in Manhattan.

“Why did I do this? What caused me to turn away from a lucrative crap game run for jackals and to open my own psychoanalytic office where I treat patients at fees based on what they can afford?” he said in a 1996 address to the Institute for Public Relations in New York. “Who knew how or why I got where I was? As far as I could tell, it was all chance. But surely being alive was for more than this.”

Cheney discussed his new work in the 2003 Times story.

Different Experience

“I love it,” he said, according to the newspaper. “When you go through something with somebody, it helps you grow. Maybe you grow in a takeover, but not in the same way.”

He said “public relations was a game,” according to the article. “It was a fun game, but it was really just a game.”

Richard Eugene Cheney was born on Aug. 30, 1921, in Pana, Illinois, to Royal Cheney and the former Nelle Henke, according to Marquis Who’s Who. His father was a grocer who went bankrupt in the Depression. After his parents divorced, he was raised by an aunt and uncle, the Times said in 2003. He graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

He was in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1947, serving in a mine-sweeper fleet and as a public information officer, attaining the rank of lieutenant junior grade. After the war, Cheney attended the University of Chicago, and then moved to New York. He worked at a public relations trade magazine and, starting in 1955, became head of financial public relations at Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., a predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. From there he moved to Hill & Knowlton.

His survivors include his wife, the former Virginia Burns, whom he married in 1966 and their children, Benjamin and Annie; two children from his first marriage, Christopher and Elyn MacInnis; and four grandchildren, according to the notice. His first marriage, to the former Betty L. McCray, ended in divorce in 1959, according to the Times.

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