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Forrest Shumway, 85; corporate white knight

Forrest N. Shumway, CEO of General Signal Corp.

John Sotomayor/The New York Times

Forrest N. Shumway, CEO of General Signal Corp.

NEW YORK — Forrest N. Shumway, a California businessman who built Signal Oil and Gas from a regional energy company into one of the nation’s largest conglomerates, a role in which he embraced his reputation as a high-stakes takeover artist but shunned the hostile deals that defined corporate culture, died Dec. 4 at home in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego. He was 85.

The cause was complications from cancer.

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Mr. Shumway ran Signal, first as chief executive and then chairman, from 1968 to 1985. Under his control, the company expanded to scoop up companies as varied as Mack Trucks, Golden West Broadcasters, and the Garrett Corp., an aerospace company. The growth spurt was often lucrative. Mr. Shumway, who bought a $25 million stake in Golden West, reportedly sold it more than a decade later for about $225 million.

As a dealmaker, he was often a white knight, coming to the rescue of ailing companies facing hostile takeovers. He saved Garrett from an unwanted bid from the Curtiss-Wright Corp.

Ultimately, Mr. Shumway’s signature merger was one that ended his three-decade tenure at Signal, a company his uncle founded in 1922. As chairman of Signal, he orchestrated a 1985 marriage with the Allied Corp. The combined companies later merged with Honeywell.

Mr. Shumway engineered the deal even though it caused his authority to slip. He soon left the chairman’s seat and became vice chairman of the board and chairman of the executive committee. He retired from those roles in 1987.

Analysts praised Mr. Shumway, known as Shum, for doing what was best for shareholders. ‘‘I think his ego’s plenty big, but he’s not an egomaniac,’’ one analyst told The New York Times at the time, adding that Mr. Shumway was a ‘‘fine example of what corporate America’s supposed to be.’’

Forrest Nelson Shumway was born in Skowhegan, Maine. His father was general counsel for a local power company.

After Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, Mr. Shumway joined the Marines for about 18 months. He then attended Stanford, where he earned both an undergraduate degree in political science and a law degree.

Mr. Shumway leaves his wife of 62 years, the former Patsy Kelly; a son, Garrett; a daughter, Brooks Shumway; his brother, Douglas; and two grandchildren. Another brother, John, died in 2007.

His legal career began in the office of the Los Angeles County Counsel. He joined Signal reluctantly only after his uncle had ‘‘put a lot of pressure’’ on him and sweetened the deal with a company car.

When Signal merged with Allied in 1985, Mr. Shumway called it ‘‘a natural get-together.” He attributed the union, in part, to the New England roots he shared with Allied’s chairman at the time.

“We all speak with funny r’s,’’ Shumway told The Times.

In retirement, he served on the boards of Alcoa, Clorox, and Transamerica, among other companies. In the early 1990s, he was chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Southern California.

A cigar-smoking outdoorsman who once held the world record for snatching a 163-pound Pacific bigeye tuna, he was also a philanthropist, focusing on the San Diego Opera.

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