Richard S. Pepper took over the presidency of Pepper Construction at age 27, just 23 days after the untimely death of his father, company founder Stanley F. Pepper, at age 53. The year was 1957 and the fledgling company was known mainly for building retail spaces such as the Marshall Field's in Chicago's Merchandise Mart.
Together with his wife, Roxy, Richard Pepper grew the Chicago-based firm into a nationally recognized contractor that ranks at No. 73 on ENR's list of the Top 400 contractors, with 2019 revenue exceeding $1.25 billion. Pepper was still in leadership until his death on Jan. 28 at age 90.
The reorganized Pepper Construction Group also has offices in Barrington, Ill., Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
"Partnership was the hallmark of my parents' marriage and the foundation of their work, their relationships and their service to others," said Stan Pepper, Richard's son and the chairman and CEO of The Pepper Cos. "Together, they left an indelible mark on our industry, our family and every person they knew. They taught us to value people first, to strive to do the right thing no matter how difficult, and to enjoy the journey, despite any challenges we face."
Among his many industry leadership roles, Richard Pepper was a life director for the Associated General Contractors of America, chairman of the Chicago and Northeast Illinois District Council of Carpenters' apprentice and trainee program, as well as trustee and treasurer of the council's welfare and pension Fund.
Pepper's belief that construction deserved an organization to advance the industry’s professionalism and ethics inspired him to become a founding member of the American Institute of Constructors. He also organized peers to form the American Contractors Insurance Group, which fosters collaboration on best practices to increase safety and minimize risk.
To further the growth of education in the field, Richard and Roxy Pepper endowed Northwestern University's undergraduate laboratories in civil and environmental engineering. The Pepper Family Foundation later created a fund to support the discipline, and in 1998 Northwestern dedicated the civil and environmental engineering wing of the Technological Institute to the Peppers.
Northwestern, where Richard met Roxy in 1949, held a special place in their hearts. Richard earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering there and Roxy earned a bachelor's degree in speech communications. Pepper Construction completed several projects on Northwestern's Evanston, Ill., campus over the years, including University Library in 1969.
Richard is survived by Roxy, his wife of 69 years, and their five children: Stan Pepper, Lynda Bollman, Richard Pepper, Lisa Pepper and Scot Pepper, as well as 18 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, former Pepper Construction CEO Dave Pepper, and a daughter-in-law, Katy.