Well-known New Orleans businessman and philanthropist William Boatner Reily III died Monday evening at age 86.
He was chairman emeritus of William B. Reily & Co. Inc. and had served as chairman of the Tulane University Board of Administrators from 1983 to 1988. He also was one of the founders of the Greater New Orleans Foundation in 1983.
Reily, who was known by his middle name, was the chairman and president of William B. Reily & Co. Inc., a national food and distribution company based on Magazine Street.
“This community will miss Boatner,” former Tulane President Scott Cowen said. “He’s one of those people who made a real difference in the lives of many others.”
The Reily company was founded in 1902 by William B. Reily Sr., a wholesale grocer from Monroe. He later partnered with green-coffee importer Jacob Aron, a family friend, and the business took off from there. It is one of the nation’s biggest coffee makers and owns Luzianne Coffee and Tea, CDM, Blue Plate Foods and many other brands.
In 2008, the company, now known as Reily Foods Co., agreed to buy American Coffee Co. of New Orleans, thereby acquiring the French Market Coffee brand.
Reily spent his entire career in the food and distribution industry, actively running the family business from 1968 until 2001, during which time the company acquired Blue Plate. He also was a director of the Standard Service Companies, Abita Springs Water Co. and FleetCor Technologies Inc., the successor to Fuelman Inc.
“The guy was very astute and made the right purchase at the right time of other companies,” businessman Tommy Westfeldt said. “He brought Reily Foods way over the next level, and he continued to do that during his whole tenure” at the top of the company.
“Boatner made it into a very, very profitable company,” said Westfeldt, whose company, Westfeldt Bros., is a coffee importer that sold coffee beans to Reily.
“He worked very hard at it,” said Westfeldt, who lives near Reily’s home and was a member of the Rex organization with him. “He was also a gentleman in so many ways, and I think that applies to his business deals as well.”
Reily also served on the New Orleans Aviation Board.
He attended Metairie Park Country Day School, Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, Yale University and Tulane, from which he graduated in 1950. He was a captain in the Rex organization for 10 years and reigned as Rex in 1982.
An avid runner, he started the Rex organization’s “royal run” around Audubon Park on Mardi Gras morning. In that inaugural run, he wore running shoes painted gold and decorated with colorful ribbons.
Reily was a major contributor to Tulane. The Reily Family Foundation contributed to the Tulane Hospital and Clinic for the construction of the Reily Foundation Pavilion, which opened in 1991, and was a major contributor to the Reily Student Recreation Center.
Cowen said he met Reily when Cowen was interviewing for the president’s job at Tulane.
“He asked incredibly perceptive questions and was extraordinarily kind in the delivery of those questions and listened with great intent,” he said.
Cowen said he often met with Reily in the first years of his tenure leading Tulane. “He provided great insight to New Orleans, its culture and the university,” he said.
He called Reily, the Reily family and its foundation “one of the pillars of Tulane University for generations. They’ve been incredibly generous philanthropically and with their time.”
In addition to serving on the Board of Administrators, Reily was a member of the Tulane President’s Council from 1978 until 1983.
In 1995, the university awarded him an honorary doctor of law degree. In 2000, he received the lifetime achievement award for Tulane alumni.
Survivors include his wife, Wendy Griswold Reily; a son, William Boatner Reily IV; a daughter, Elaine Stokes Reily; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Audubon Tea Room, 6500 Magazine St., New Orleans.