Forrest Shumway dies at 85; turned Signal Oil into conglomerate


Forrest N. Shumway, a law-trained businessman who expanded his uncle’s Signal Oil & Gas Co. from a local operation into one of the country’s most powerful, diverse business conglomerates, has died. He was 85.

Shumway, who helped engineer the merger that created Allied-Signal Corp. while also serving on USC’s board of trustees, died of complications of cancer at his La Jolla home on Dec. 4, said his son Garrett.

Born March 21, 1927 in Skowhegan, Maine, Shumway joined the Marines after high school and went on to get his bachelor’s in political science and a law degree, both from Stanford University. He worked in the legal department at the Los Angeles County counsel’s office for several years until his uncle hired him at Signal, named for Signal Hill in the harbor area.


By 37, seven years after he started in Signal’s legal department, Shumway had risen to the rank of president.

Despite his quick rise to corporate success, however, his son described Shumway as a sharp, funny outdoorsman who wore psychedelic paisley ties, liked to stay busy and rarely missed a weekend home with the family.

“If you can’t get the job done in eight hours, five days a week, then you’re disorganized,” Shumway told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1987.

With Shumway at the helm, Signal quickly established a reputation as a white knight, having saved Garrett, an aerospace company, and Mack Trucks from hostile takeovers.

Although criticized at the time, Shumway’s business risks often paid off.

In 1985, The Times wrote that under Shumway’s leadership Signal “shrewdly rode an acquisitions-and-divestiture wave to turn itself into a premier diversified high-tech manufacturer with $6 billion in annual sales.”

Elected to USC’s board of trustees in 1968, he served as its chairman between 1990 and 1995, during which time he headed the selection committee that picked Steven B. Sample, the former USC president revered for boosting the school’s reputation.

Malcolm Currie, who succeeded him as board chairman, lauded Shumway for his “firm fiscal leadership” and relaxed sense of humor that helped alleviate often tense board meetings.

Besides his son, Shumway is survived by his wife, Patsy; daughter, Brooks; two grandchildren and his brother Doug.