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CVS cofounder Ralph P. Hoagland III, an entrepreneur with endless ideas, dies at 86

Of all of his business forays, the Orson Welles Cinema and complex was closest to the heart of Mr. Hoagland.
Of all of his business forays, the Orson Welles Cinema and complex was closest to the heart of Mr. Hoagland.Handout

Ralph P. Hoagland III was the son of a retail and wholesale druggist, so there was a sense of family heritage when he cofounded CVS, which grew into the nation’s largest pharmacy chain.

For Mr. Hoagland, though, CVS was just one of many businesses he launched, including a beloved movie theater, memorable restaurants, 24-hour stores, and even ventures in Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed.

“He couldn’t stop coming up with ideas,” said his son Eric. “And there were good ones and bad ones, and he made it very clear that this was entrepreneurialism: It was a roll of the dice.”

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Mr. Hoagland, who also had been a civil rights activist inspired by the early speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died Friday of posterior cortical atrophy. He was 86, lived in Peterborough, N.H., and formerly had resided in Cambridge, which also was home to some of his businesses.

“New ideas would just roll off his brain and he’d implement a lot of things,” said his wife, Molly, with whom Mr. Hoagland had run businesses such as the Orson Welles Cinema on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.

“He facilitated so many businesses and was very generous with his time,” she added. “He wanted to bring other people along.”

Along with cofounding CVS and the Orson Welles complex, Mr. Hoagland started or operated other businesses that became part of Greater Boston history. He ran the Paris 26 restaurant in Newton and the 33 Dunster St. restaurant off Harvard Square.

“At 33 Dunster, he’d be wearing a business suit and running shoes. He’d chase down the walkouts,” said his son Lawrence of New York City.

Mr. Hoagland also ran 1001 Plays in Cambridge, an early video game arcade, and cofounded the round-the-clock Store 24 chain, the result of another entrepreneurial epiphany.

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“He did a study on the back of an envelope about how many insomniacs and how many students were up in the middle of the night who needed a gallon of milk or something to eat,” said Eric, who lives in Cambridge.

Eric added, however, that “the business he’s proudest of is CVS for sure, and his proudest moment by far is when CVS stopped selling cigarettes.” (The chain dropped tobacco products several years ago.)

In 1963, Mr. Hoagland and the brothers Sidney and Stanley Goldstein opened their first CVS in Lowell and a second soon after, initially under the name Consumer Value Stores.

“Ralph knew he wanted to do something with extra value,” his wife said.

The long name was shortened, however, in part due to the price of signs as the chain grew.

“All those letters cost a lot of money,” Stanley Goldstein told the Providence Journal’s Mark Patinkin in 2017, “so we shortened it to CVS.”

Stanley Goldstein continued to be affiliated with CVS after the company was acquired by Melville Corp. in 1969, serving on the board and as the company’s chief executive before retiring more than a dozen years ago.

While Mr. Hoagland was proudest of helping start CVS, the Orson Welles complex was closest to his heart, Eric said.

The complex included a film school, along with a restaurant that did not bear the Welles name. The film director and actor, who had been considering his own business foray into the field of fine dining, “gave his permission to put his name on the movie theater, but not on the restaurant,” Lawrence said.

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Even though Mr. Hoagland’s businesses wrote chapters in the nation’s and region’s retail histories, he always had an eye on the future.

“I called him a serial entrepreneur,” Lawrence said. “He very much liked starting new things. He became restless after not too long and wanted to move on to the next new thing.”

The fourth of six siblings, Ralph Pratt Hoagland III was born in Boston on Aug. 1, 1933.

His father, Ralph P. Hoagland Jr., was a wholesale and retail druggist who ran Bailey’s Drugstore in Allston and stores in other locations. His mother, Mary O’Brien, worked with his father in side business ventures and was “one of the hardest working people you’d ever meet,” Lawrence said.

Mr. Hoagland missed his early years of school due to an illness that left him in Boston Children’s Hospital and affected his bones “to the point that he wasn’t expected to survive and was given last rites,” Lawrence said.

“We think that experience had a lot to do with him believing that you could overcome anything if you were just determined to do it,” Lawrence added. “Whether it was possible or not, he wasn’t going to be deterred by the fact that something had never been done.”

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Mr. Hoagland went to Princeton University, from which he graduated in 1956. His father, who had set aside his own studies midway through Harvard University due to an illness, returned to finish in middle age and graduated from Harvard in 1955, at age 56.

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Mr. Hoagland initially worked in sales for Procter & Gamble before becoming associated with the Goldstein brothers Sidney and Stanley, whose older brother, Larry, died in a plane crash in the early 1960s.

He began working with the Goldsteins while attending Harvard Business School, from which he graduated in 1962.

One night he attended a speech by the Rev. King at Brandeis University, where Molly Kaplan was a student. Each was dating someone else that night, but they became a couple soon after.

“I was just entranced by Ralph. He was very charismatic,” she recalled, adding that he was scheduled to travel to Ireland to study the literature of James Joyce at Trinity College in Dublin but “turned in his steamship tickets the first week he met me.”

They married in 1958.

“Martin Luther King was like a theme in our lives,” Molly said.

After King was assassinated in 1968, Mr. Hoagland helped launch the Fund for Urban Negro Development, which quickly raised about $300,000.

In a 1969 Globe interview, he said the fund-raising provided Boston’s black community “with no-strings attached money — no white controls, advice, or helpful hints — to be spent according to its own priorities.”

Mr. Hoagland continued to be involved with civil rights work and with politics over the years. “He cared very passionately about anybody who was oppressed, anywhere,” Lawrence said.

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Recalling that one of Exeter’s mottos was “Non Sibi,” or “not for oneself,” Mr. Hoagland’s wife said that as a philanthropist and activist, “Ralph was definitely one of the most generous giving people. He always wanted to help others who were less fortunate.”

A service will be announced for Mr. Hoagland, who in addition to his wife, Molly, and his sons Lawrence and Eric leaves another son, Peter of Claymont, Del.; a brother, Peter of San Francisco; a sister, Carol Leynse of Menlo Park, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

Though Mr. Hoagland took satisfaction in the success of his ventures, “what he enjoyed the most is the creation of a business,” Eric said.

“The idea goes off and it’s like a big bang that happens,” he added. “That’s what he loved — from the idea to the implementation, as you draw people in.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.