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Throw and Blanket Entrepreneur Biederlack Dies

Robert Biederlack, the cosmopolitan German businessman with a vaguely aristocratic mien who founded Biederlack of America and nourished it into a major throw and blanket producer, died Thursday, May 24, in Germany following a long illness.

He was 68 years old and had been involved in the Biederlack family business in Greven, Germany, for 40 years until fragile health forced his retirement in December 2005.

Biederlack founded the American scion of the German operation in 1979 as a vehicle for selling the parent's high-pile throws here, later investing in a totally vertical weaving and distribution facility here as the U.S. business took off in the 1980s under a team of scrappy American managers and salesmen led by Peter McCabe. Never dogmatic and always open to new ideas "unlike some of my countrymen," he would wryly observe, he was quick to embrace the American marketplace in all of its complexities and quirks, pushing the company into new design directions and new product categories. Decades ago, he introduced licensed products into the throw category, igniting a trend that has since come to dominate the business.

Deeply involved in the U.S. business, he was equally attentive to those who worked for him. "It's my money, and maybe a little bit of pushing now and then, but the business is built on their backs," he would say, and he was ever mindful of their contribution. When Peter Gallagher, a New York City sales rep retired, Biederlack insisted on making what was then, in the midst of his illnesses, an arduous journey to New York for the party to salute his comrade. Though frail from his battle with leukemia and made even more fragile by the early stages of Alzheimer's, he circulated through the room, and his memory prompted by Peter McCabe, greeted all his guests like old friends.

More than an entrepreneur, Robert Biederlack was actively involved in German affairs, representing his company in the German Chamber of Commerce Business Development Committee. He was also a judge in the Muenster regional court for Commercial Law. At the age of 44 he received the German Order of Merit award, and 10 years later gained the Order of Merit First Class.

Years ago, he was invited to run for national office on the Green Party ticket, but demurred.

Summing up, Peter McCabe, now Biederlack of America president, observed, "Robert was a true gentleman, the heart and soul of Biederlack of America. It has been a privilege and an honor to have known him. We will miss him dearly."

Funeral services are planned for June 4 in Greven, Germany, the small Westphalian hamlet he loved so well.

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