Published in The Oklahoman
Posted online on July 27, 2023
David Lee McLaughlin, beloved husband and father, fun grandfather, businessman, enthusiastic community supporter, and loyal friend, passed away on July 24th from heart failure.
He was born to Margaret and Eugene McLaughlin in Austin, Minnesota in 1937, and even after nearly six decades of being an Oklahoman, he had a special place in his heart for anyone with a connection to Minnesota.
Growing up, he and his three siblings, Peggy, Neil, and Mary, worked in their family’s store, Square Deal Grocery. Dave credited his years unloading trucks, stocking shelves, and making sales as the launchpad for his lifelong interest in business and his whole-hearted belief in the importance of free enterprise.
Dave graduated from Austin High in 1955, voted “Wittiest Boy in High School” by his classmates—and thankfully, all who knew him continued to benefit from his wit and humor.
Four years later, he graduated from Macalester College, earning a degree in business. With a twinkle in his eye, he never tired of providing clarification that he attended “Macalester College in Minnesota” and was not actually a product or resident of the state penitentiary by a similar name in southeast Oklahoma.
While on a camping trip to the Boundary Waters in high school, Dave watched a fellow camper, Jean Naslund, portage her own canoe and knew immediately this was the girl for him. After several years of dating, they married in 1960 and recently celebrated their 63rd anniversary. Dave often credited his “good Jean” for much of his success.
He worked at Hormel Foods for several years before co-founding Advance Food Company in Enid, Oklahoma with “the best business partner anyone could have,” Paul Allen, in 1973. Their business started with hamburger patties and breaded beef and grew to be the nation’s leading producer of value-added meat products, notably Chicken Fried Steaks, Pub Burgers and Philly Steaks.
What started with five workers grew to over 2,400 employees, who Dave and Paul always considered family. He was proud that the small business he and Paul started evolved into a thriving international corporation, employing all seven children of the co-founders, along with thousands of other employees in multiple states.
Advance products were sold in restaurants, and grocery stores through Advance Brands, across North America. Following a significant merger in 2010, the company became AdvancePierre Foods, which led to additional acquisitions resulting in the company employing over 4,000 people. In 2018 the company was acquired by Tyson Foods, which maintains operations in Enid today, always a high priority for Dave and Paul.
Lake trips were Dave’s escape from work and a treasured time with the family on their boat, MerriMac. His four children remember the weekends fondly—and years later, everyone still laughs about docking adventures with Captain Dave. He appreciated the arts, especially music—from bongos and snare drums to the OKC Philharmonic. An annual highlight for many summers was Music from Angel Fire.
As their children became adults, Dave and Jean traveled with friends, family, and World Neighbors. They loved learning about the world—and you could count on Dave checking out local grocery stores, taking special interest in the meat departments, as he was always curious to see what they were stocking.
He never really retired and was active with many organizations. He loved being a regent for University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO). His Fortune Club breakfasts were some of his favorite meetings and he mentored young entrepreneurs, especially when he could help with start-ups in the food industry. He kept a regular presence at the family’s Square Deal Capital office, sharing a story or contributing to a conversation about real estate, investing or philanthropy, as he stopped in to load up on snacks on his way to the gym in recent years.
He and Jean, along with their family, founded McLaughlin Family Foundation in 2004 around their dining room table. The foundation provides grants and support for organizations that help children and families thrive in the greater OKC area. He was a founding member of Made in Oklahoma (MIO). He also served on the board of Saxon Publishing, working closely with the family and that business through the years.
Dave’s involvement at the First Unitarian Church earned him the reputation of being a loyal, calm, and reliable leader through his decades of membership. Commitment to providing opportunity to others was woven into all aspects of his life and, purposefully, he wove it into his children and those around him.
Throughout his life and career, he was honored repeatedly for his noteworthy accomplishments and tireless community service. While he was never one to miss a good celebration, he preferred to cheer on his grandchildren at their sporting events, and support the work his children and their spouses became involved in rather than be in the spotlight himself.
Dave loved through action, leading with his quick smile. Seeing his values play out in the next generations brought him joy. He cherished Jean, their children and spouses, and his grandchildren. He said many times he had the best life, the best wife, the best partnership, the best employees, and he was incredibly grateful.
David was preceded in death by his parents, and his sister, Mary Hill.
He is survived by his wife Jean, their four children and families: Tim and Liz Allen McLaughlin, Beth McLaughlin and partner John W. Hunt, Jr., Kelly and Amy McLaughlin Gray, and Rob and Chrissy McLaughlin. He also leaves behind cherished grandchildren: Matthew, Garrett, Libby, Michael and Kyle McLaughlin, Lamar Batista, Lainey, Katherine and Georgia Gray. Additionally, he is survived by his sister Peggy McLaughlin Keener, and her husband Glen, and his brother Neil McLaughlin, along with many dear nieces and nephews, and countless extended family and friends.
The family invites friends to the Celebration of Life, August 3rd at 2:00 pm at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. Arrangements are being handled by Smith & Kernke Funeral Directors and there will be a link to watch the service virtually from their website.
In lieu of flowers, please make a gift to your favorite charity or school. To honor Dave’s memory, please consider supporting a local entrepreneur, telling a joke, or eating a chicken fried steak.