Former Chairman, CEO Rodale Dead at 81

Ardath Harter Rodale, a former chairman and CEO of the publishing company that bore her family name, died Dec. 18 at the age of 81, following a long battle with cancer, the company announced.

Ardath Rodale was the wife of the late Robert Rodale, a past chairman and CEO of Rodale and the son of J.I. Rodale, who helped found the company in 1923. She became CEO in 1990, taking over for her husband after his death in a car crash.

She gave up the chairman post in 2007 to her daughter, Maria Rodale, who became the company’s CEO earlier this year.

“We are very sad to say goodbye to an amazing woman, and more importantly, to our mother and the grandmother to our children. She will be very missed,” Maria Rodale said in a statement.

Ardath Rodale’s death is likely to spur speculation about an eventual sale of the company. Rodale, with well-known health- and fitness-related brands like Prevention, Men’s Health and Runner’s World, has been widely seen as a target for an acquisition by bigger publishing houses like Hearst, Time Inc. and Condé Nast.

A longtime industry watcher who knows the company well predicted that Ardath Rodale’s death would make the company more amenable to sale talks, even if current market conditions aren’t favorable to a deal.

“I do believe there was no chance it’d be sold while she was alive,” this person said. “She had a connection to the founders in a way [younger family members] don’t. She did not want it sold, and they would not do it against her wishes.”

A company rep maintained Rodale hasn’t changed its plans to remain independent, saying, “The company is not for sale.”