Peter Frechette, former chairman and CEO of Patterson Companies, is considered "the modern day founder of the company." In his earlier life, as a U.S. Army military police officer, he was part of the battalion sent to protect James Meredith, the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi. He and his wife, Pat, also were passionate philanthropists.

Frechette died suddenly on Feb. 22 while visiting friends in California.

He joined then-Patterson Dental Co. in 1982 as president after an 18-year career at American Hospital Supply Co. In 1985, Frechette lead a management buyout of the Mendota Heights-based company from its parent company, The Beatrice Companies, a conglomerate of mostly food companies.

"Pete always joked to me that Beatrice didn't even know they owned a dental supply company," said current Patterson Companies CEO Scott Anderson.

James Wiltz, who succeeded Frechette as president and CEO of Patterson Cos. in May 2005, had worked at Patterson Dental since 1969.

"I was about ready to leave had Pete not arrived," Wiltz said. "Pete was personally responsible for pulling that company up by its bootstraps."

Frechette and his team knew how to run the business, recognized the industry was consolidating and set about making dozens of acquisitions in the dental supply industry buying smaller distributors and complementary product lines.

In 1992, Frechette lead the company through an initial public offering that turned the company public.

By 2001, acquisition opportunities in the dental supply industry were getting thin. Frechette pushed Patterson to diversify further, into the veterinary supply market first, and in 2003 into the rehabilitative-care supply business.

When Frechette lead the buyout in 1985 the company had annual revenue of approximately $111 million; by 2000 revenue surpassed $1 billion and $2 billion by 2005. Last year Patterson's annual revenue exceeded $5.6 billion.

Frechette retired as CEO in 2005 and served as chairman of the Patterson board until 2013.

He was born in Janesville, Wis., in 1937 and attended Janesville Senior High School. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961 with an economics degree and in 1980 earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He also served in the U.S. Army.

He married his high school sweetheart, Patricia O'Brien, in 1961. Pat, who died in September, also graduated from Wisconsin, with an education degree. Together, the couple raised twin girls and were involved in many philanthropic and charitable causes.

In 2000, Frechette, Wiltz and other Patterson executives founded the Patterson Foundation, which provides college scholarships to children of Patterson employees and makes grants to nonprofit organizations that provide charitable dental or animal health services.

Peter and Pat Frechette also supported a number of organizations. Considered passionate and discerning gift givers by those they supported, they encouraged their children and grandchildren to do the same.

Their daughters said their parents passed on to them the belief that "the ability to give is a gift."

In 1999, the family purchased a second home in Beaver Creek, Colo., and became deeply involved in that community. In 2015, the Vail Valley Foundation named the Frechettes as Citizens of the Year for the contributions and leadership to the community, including programs and events in the arts, education and athletics and toward environmental and conservation causes in the area.

Besides the Vail foundation, the Frechettes supported, among others, the University of Wisconsin, Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis, the Basilica of St. Mary, St. Catherine University and Colorado's Roundup River Ranch.

In 2013, the Frechettes endowed the Perry and Alicia O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University with an $8.3 million donation. The award is named after Pat Frechette's parents, who were graduates of Marquette. The award supports in-depth public service journalism.

Frechette is survived by daughters Kathy Tenhula (Peter) of Alexandria, Va., and Kristy Woolfolk (Bill) of Hinsdale, Ill.; and five grandchildren. Services will be at noon Thursday at the Basillica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926