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Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge dies at 67

Founder Michael Kittredge posed for a portrait in the South Deerfield Yankee Candle factory in 1986.
Founder Michael Kittredge posed for a portrait in the South Deerfield Yankee Candle factory in 1986.Richard Carpenter for The Boston Globe/Freelance

Yankee Candle founder Michael J. Kittredge II died Wednesday at a Boston hospital after a brief illness, surrounded by relatives and friends, his family said in a statement. He was 67.

“Mike loved nothing more than seeing other people experience happiness, and he delighted in sharing generously with others,” the release from a family spokesman said. “He was a consummate entertainer, and enjoyed hosting parties and gatherings large and small, all done with his distinctive zeal for quality and getting the tiniest details exactly right.”

Kittredge launched Yankee Candle in 1969 as a teenager and grew it into the largest hand-crafted candle company in the United States before selling to an investment firm in 1998 for a reported $400 million.

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He spoke enthusiastically about his product line during a Globe interview in 1984.

“We are selling a handmade product that’s unique,” Kittredge said at the time. “Our candles are hand dipped, scented, and the packaging is certainly unique.”

Yankee Candle has continued to emphasize quality under its current ownership, according to the company website.

“Today, we offer over 150 fragrances, a wide range of seasonal and specialty scented candles, home fragrance products, car air fresheners and candle accessories,” the site says. “The majority of our candles are made by master chandlers [candlemakers] in Massachusetts.”

Kittredge, in addition to his business pursuits, also had a keen interest in music, according to the family statement.

“An accomplished guitarist, Mike was part of ‘The Bristol Curries’ as a teen and helped lead the band to statewide honors,” the statement said. “He maintained his great love of music into adulthood and recorded dozens of original songs in his home studio.”

Travel was also a passion.

“He loved to travel with his family and friends, and his boundless curiosity to experience many of the world’s great wonders and mysteries led him to places as diverse as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica,” the release said. “He collected countless photos and videos on these trips, and treasured the memories deeply.”

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Kittredge graduated from South Hadley High School in 1970 and received an associate’s degree from Holyoke Community College in 1973, as well as an honorary doctorate from UMass in 2002, his family said.

Holyoke Community College posted a message of condolence to the Kittredge family on its official Twitter account Thursday.

“We are so saddened by the passing of HCC alum and longtime friend Michael Kittredge ’73,” the college tweeted. “Our thoughts are with his family.”

The family statement noted Kittredge’s marketing acumen, which helped turn Yankee Candle into a globally recognized brand.

“Mike was a true marketing visionary, developing many ‘entertainment retailing’ concepts before that term became widely-known in business,” the release said.

“His innovations helped make the company’s Deerfield flagship store one of the most-visited attractions in Massachusetts.”

He returned to the candle business in 2010, when he helped his son, Michael III, start the Kringle Candle Company and the affiliated Farm Table Restaurant in Bernardston, according to the statement.

Details of his illness weren’t disclosed Thursday, but his family said he had battled prior health issues.

“As a two-time cancer survivor, Mike became a devoted supporter of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and served on its Board of Directors for years,” the statement said. “Mike was an ardent believer in the importance of education and health, and helped create Cooley-Dickinson Hospital’s Kittredge Surgery Center, Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Center, the Kittredge Building at The Bement School in Deerfield, and many other philanthropic endeavors.”

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Kittredge had a stroke in 2012 but continued to remain active as a musician and devoted family man.

“He switched from guitar to drums in his informal band, made extensive progress in regaining speech and took constant pride in his home and property,” the release said.

“Above all, Mike’s greatest passion was spending time with his children, playing games, watching their home videos, reviewing his son’s latest candle products, and enjoying meals together.”

Besides his son, Kittredge leaves his daughters, Kylie Madison and Casey Jean of Amherst, as well as cousins in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Vermont, California, and Hawaii, the statement said.

No calling hours or funeral services have yet been planned, according to the release.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.