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EL PASO, Texas -- John A. Gillett Jr., 87, the first president of Circle K Food Stores, a leader in the convenience store industry, passed away last month from Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Gillett began his career in the convenience channel when he moved his family from El Paso, Texas to Phoenix to spearhead the expansion of a small chain of drive-in food stores in 1957. The chain, known at the time as Kay's, was owned by his father-in-law, former El Paso Mayor Fred Hervey and both men agreed the Arizona city was the right area for expansion. With the expansion, the chain was renamed Circle K, reflecting its Southwest origins, according to the El Paso Times.
The expansion came at a time when the convenience store concept of quick purchases and easy parking was still in its early stages. As Phoenix grew, Circle K grew right with it. By 1964 there were 100 stores and the company went public, the newspaper said.
Tapping into his aviator skills he acquired as a fighter pilot in World War II, Gillett scouted new locations over an eight-state area. Over the years, Gillett introduced many products which would one day become convenience store staples such as gasoline, fresh sandwiches, slush drinks, giftware and house brands. Upon his retirement in 1974, Circle K had grown internationally to Japan, his vision transforming the small c-store chain into a major corporation with more than 1,200 locations worldwide.
Gillett was born on the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. He moved with his family a few years later to Mexico City, where his father managed the first Sears and Roebuck store outside the United States. He attended the American School in Mexico City and the Texas Military Institute in Dallas.
He enlisted with the Army Air Corps in 1943 and flew more than 15 missions with the 507th Fighter Group, 464th Squadron. After the war, Gillett attended Southern Methodist University on the GI bill.
Gillett is survived by his first wife, Sherleen Hervey; his companion, Hisako Krueger; his children Sheryl Gillett Caudana and Lance Gillett; his stepdaughter Sandie Lyons; and his grandchildren Jonathan, Alexander, Justin, Dario and Camille. He is predeceased by his second wife, Jan Lyons.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, P.O. Box 19023 Cancer Research Seattle, WA 98109 Attention: Dr. A.J. Gopal, Non Hodgkins Cancer Research.