Amory Houghton, Jr. who led Corning Glass Works for nearly twenty years and later served nine terms as a member of Congress, died peacefully of natural causes on March 4th at his home in Corning NY. He was 93.
He is the only former Chief Executive of a Fortune 500 Company ever elected to the US House of Representatives.
Mr. Houghton, better known as “Amo”, attended St Paul’s School in Concord, NH, Harvard College and the Harvard Business School. He was a PFC in the US Marine Corps during the final year of WWII.
He joined Corning in 1952 as a Junior Process Engineer, became President in 1961 and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1964. During his tenure, sales and income increased more than five fold and employment grew to over 29,000 worldwide. Passionately committed to research and development, he shepherded such innovations as Corning Ware, Corelle Dinnerware, automotive catalytic converters, specialized flat glass used now on smart phones and panels, and optical fiber – which revolutionized the telecommunications industry and ushered in the creation of the Internet.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of BF Goodrich, Citibank, Genentech, IBM, Owens Corning, New York Telephone and The Procter and Gamble Company. He was a member of The Business Council and co-founded the Labor/Industry Coalition for International Trade. He served as President of the Board of Trustees at St Paul’s School and The Episcopal Theological Seminary and was a two time Overseer of Harvard University. He served as a Trustee of the Brookings Institute and the Corning Museum of Glass. He stepped down as CEO of Corning in 1983 and was elected to Congress three years later.
During his eighteen-year career in Washington, he served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Budget and Ways and Means. A natural consensus builder, he never pretended to be someone he wasn’t and used his patient salesmanship to defuse partisan disagreements in order to tackle problems the only way that made sense to him - cooperatively. He was uniquely popular among members of both parties for his self-deprecating sense of humor and relentless work ethic. His concern about the erosion of civility in government led him to organize numerous retreats for members from both sides of the aisle – and their families – so that they could get to know each other on a human level, beyond the inflexibility of what politics has become.
He was a co-founder and Chairman of The Republican Main Street Partnership, an organization dedicated to supporting members of his party who spoke with a more moderate voice. Together with his great friend and congressional classmate, John L. Lewis, he served as Co-Chairman of the Faith and Politics Institute.
Amo was part of a small handful of Republicans who opposed the impeachment of President Clinton and were in opposition to the authorization of force in Iraq. Those votes elicited considerable anger in some circles and wide support in others.
He was a passionate supporter of the United Nations and the principal force behind Nelson Mandela, a personal hero, being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1998. When he retired from politics in 2004, his achievements were recognized by his many colleagues as well as the nation of France, who bestowed on him its highest civilian honor: La Legion D’Honneur in recognition of his efforts to improve relations between the two countries.
Mr. Houghton was born on August 7th, 1926 to a family of businessmen and public servants. His great, great grandfather founded the predecessor company of Corning Incorporated in Somerville, MA in 1851. In 1868, the company relocated to its present location in upstate New York. His grandfather, Alanson, ran his family’s business and then served two terms in the US House before being appointed in the mid 1920s to be the US Ambassador to Germany and then later to The Court of St. James in London. His father, Amory Sr., also a successful businessman, was the US Ambassador to France under President Eisenhower.
Amo was extraordinarily devoted to his family, and was most at ease in the place he called home his entire life: Corning, NY. He was an iconic, larger than life presence there - enormously proud of his association with the city and the company who adopted its name. He was a member and past President of the Corning Rotary Club and played the drums in a local swing band.
He will likely be best remembered there for his leadership during the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes. The resulting flood that swept through the city in the dead of night on June 23rd, 1972 caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, killing 22 people. Because of the destruction of so many manufacturing facilities there, speculation was rampant that the company would abandon the area. In a stirring speech over the emergency airwaves, Houghton pledged that the company would stay and rebuild even better than before. He delivered on that promise and Corning never forgot.
Amo Houghton was a man of fierce determination, driven to be courageous and compassionate so that he would live up to the standards his family had set for generations. He believed he had a personal obligation to serve. And while naturally an extrovert who could effortlessly connect with anyone – from an hourly worker to a Head of State – he was above all a man of grace, unfailingly polite and generous, always checking in on a friend or neighbor during their time of need.
A man of deep religious conviction, Amo’s favorite prayer summed up a remarkable life:
Grant, Oh Lord, that in all the joys of life, we may never forget to be kind. Help us to be unselfish in friendship, thoughtful of those less happy than ourselves and eager to bear the burden of others. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
He is survived by his brother Jamie of Boston MA; his children: Amory III of South Salem, NY; Robert of Acton, MA; Sarah of Fairfield, CT; Quincy of New York, NY; nine grandchildren and one great grandson. In 1950, he married the former Ruth West of New York, NY. In 1989, he was remarried to Priscilla Dewey of Cohasset, MA, who predeceased him in 2012.
A memorial service to be held in Corning, NY will be announced at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests individuals contribute to Christ Episcopal Church, 33 East First St., Corning, NY 14830.
If you are moved to send written condolences, please address them to: The Office of the Hon. Amory Houghton, Jr., 80 East Market Street, Suite 201, Corning, NY 14830.