By Ron Hayes
OCEAN RIDGE — Some of us yearn for a little more spice in our lives.
Hugh McCormick Jr. was born to a world filled with it, and spent his working days spreading the flavors and fragrances far and wide.
In 1885, Mr. McCormick’s great-uncle, Willoughby McCormick, began selling flavoring extracts and fruit syrups door to door from a cellar in Baltimore. Seven years later, he added spices, and today McCormick & Co. is an international company with 8,000 employees.
Hugh McCormick Jr., “The Spice Man” to family and friends, died peacefully on Valentine’s Day. He was 96 and had lived in Palm Beach County since retiring in 1983, first in Highland Beach and, since 2005, in Ocean Ridge.
“He used to come home from work smelling like spices,” recalled his son, Hugh McCormick III. “They had a big concrete building on the inner harbor in Baltimore. Everyone called it ‘the plant,’ so as a kid I thought they actually grew all the spices down there from a plant.”
Hugh Perry McCormick Jr. was born Aug. 5, 1920, in Baltimore. He graduated from City College High School as a center on the state champion football team and captain of the swim team and then earned a degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. McCormick enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as second officer on the U.S. sub chaser SC-525 in the Mediterranean and a skipper of the SC-1369 in the Pacific. Following the war, he served another 20 years in the Naval Reserve, retiring in 1967 with the rank of commander.
In 1938, Mr. McCormick met Alice Joy James, of Newton, Miss., at a Baptist summer camp in Ridgecrest, N.C. The couple began a seven-year courtship that ended in 1944, when they were wed while the groom was between Navy assignments. They were married for 60 years, until her death in 2004.
“Now that Dad’s passed on, I’ve started going through their correspondence and found about 700 letters from their courting days,” his son said. “He’d saved them all.”
Mr. McCormick began work at the family business as a salesman, driving 50 miles each day to sell spices and extracts out of his car. In time, he was promoted to tea taster.
“He’d have a whole tray of samples and swish them around and spit it out like wine,” his son said. “His AOL address was ‘teabag.’”
Mr. McCormick spent his middle career as credit manager for the company, then became head of the government supply division, providing spices for U.S. military bases throughout the world.
In that capacity, he traveled to Asia like a modern-day Marco Polo, buying spices and coordinating sales in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan.
In Highland Beach, the McCormicks lived in an oceanfront home designed by his son, an architect. Mr. McCormick enjoyed golf and tennis and was a member of The Ocean Club of Florida, The Country Club of Florida, and the Manalapan Yacht Club. He attended the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach.
“He was a very loving father, and a modest and gracious man,” his son said. “He didn’t have a lot of bombast or any arrogance to him. He was charitable and unassuming, but he had a twinkle in his eye.”
In addition to his son, Mr. McCormick is survived by two daughters, Mary Meyer and Alice Meiners, both of Ocean Ridge, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. March 31 at University Baptist Church in Baltimore.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the ALS Clinic or Division of Endocrinology at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Building Families for Children of Columbia, Md.; or the Brother’s Brother Foundation of Pittsburgh.
Lorne & Sons is in charge of arrangements.