Winston Wallin Dies at 84 After Battling Cancer

The Minneapolis native is remembered for his contributions to the business, philanthropic, and academic communities.

R. Winston Wallin, a former leader at both Medtronic and Pillsbury and a well-known local philanthropist, died Monday morning after an eight-month battle with abdominal cancer. He was 84.

Wallin, a Minneapolis native, joined Minneapolis-based Pillsbury as a grain buyer after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He slowly worked his way up the ranks and became the company's president and chief operating officer in 1977.

In 1985, Wallin left Pillsbury to join Fridley-based Medtronic, Inc., where he served as chairman and CEO until 1991. During his tenure, revenues grew from $370 million to $1 billion, and net income increased from $38 million to $133 million.

Wallin is credited with changing the direction of Medtronic at a time when the company's stock price was down and it had lost its technical edge. He encouraged employees to focus on the company's overall mission rather than on short-term, stock-driven goals, and he focused on investing in research and development to create new medical devices and improve the company's existing product line. With $15.8 billion in fiscal 2010 revenue, Medtronic is now the world's largest medical-device company.

“Win's legacy is part of the very heart of Medtronic,” current Chairman and CEO William A. Hawkins said in a statement. “Without his contributions, Medtronic would not be what it is today. We are grateful for the opportunity to remember his leadership at Medtronic with pride, and we are inspired to carry out our mission with the same devotion and passion that he did.”

Upon his retirement from Medtronic in 1991, Wallin dedicated his time and resources to multiple philanthropic organizations. Since he founded Minneapolis-based Wallin Education Partners that same year, the program has awarded more than 3,000 scholarships and given more than $25 million to enable high-potential, low-income students to go to college.

“We fondly remember Win for much more than his business record,” Hawkins said in a statement. “He was extraordinarily generous and kind and had a sincerity and dedication to fairness and ethical business practices which we strive to uphold every day at Medtronic.”

In addition to his business and philanthropic contributions, Wallin was also involved in the local world of academia. In 1993, he became a special adviser to the University of Minnesota's then-President Nils Hasselmo, overseeing the Academic Health Center during a time of great turbulence and chairing a cancer center research campaign that raised $30 million.

Right up until his death, Wallin served as a trustee of the Minnesota Medical Foundation, a member of the Medical School dean's Board of Visitors, and a trustee emeritus of the University of Minnesota Foundation.

In 1992, Wallin earned the U of M's Outstanding Achievement Award, and in 1995, he was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree from the Medical School.

Wallin was inducted into Twin Cities Business' Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2001 and named one of the magazine's “200 Minnesotans You Should Know” earlier this year. He was also featured in a 2010 story on corporate and individual philanthropy because of his unique approach to giving.

Wallin is survived by his wife, Maxine; four children; and 13 grandchildren. Arrangements are being handled by the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels.