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Billionaire retailer Sam Moore Walton dies

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Small-town billionaire Sam Moore Walton, whose Wal-Mart retail store chain helped make him one of the world's richest men and a symbol of the American dream, has died after a long bout with cancer. He was 74.

Family members were present when Walton died at about 8 a.m. Sunday at University Hospital, Wal-Mart spokesman Don Shinkle said. The man who rose from management trainee to discount retail titan had been under treatment for multiple myeloma -- malignant tumors of the bone marrow.

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Wal-Mart said in a statement issued from its headquarters inBentonville, Ark., that Walton's death was not 'expected to result in any changes in corporate policy or control.'

Wal-Mart President David Glass said Walton would be missed deeply by the workers of the huge retail chain.

'Only his family meant more to Sam Walton than his beloved associates,' Glass said. 'Literally, his second home was a Wal-Mart store somewhere in America. Sam said many times he was always comfortable there surrounded by associates and customers.

'What he taught us, instilled in us -- to respect the value of each individual, that the customer is always right, and the love for God and country -- will live on forever.'

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President Bush described Walton as 'an American original ... who epitomized the American dream.'

'Barbara and I are deeply saddened by the death of our friend Sam Walton,' the chief executive said in a statement.

Bush gave Walton the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in a March 17 ceremony -- held in the retailer's hometown Bentonville, Ark., rather than Washington in deference to Walton's health.

'It was an honor and a privilege to award Sam with the Presidential Medal of Freedom just a month ago,' Bush said.

Walton was named the wealthiest person in the United States by a Forbes magazine survey in 1985 when he was 67. Six years later, he and his family were ranked second wealthiest in the world, outranked only by the oil-rich sultan of Brunei.

Walton had since been replaced as America's wealthiest individual by Metromedia midas John Werner Kluge because the the Walton family fortune -- valued at $23.6 billion -- was divided into five trusts. Most of it is in the stock of Wal-Mart, a small-town, low-price store chain.

Walton probably would go unrecognized by most people outside of his home state, Arkansas. He lived in a modest house in Bentonville, played tennis and hunted quail and drove a pickup truck, eschewing fancy cars. His philanthropy was reported limited to local improvement projects.

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The Walton family owns the 1,800-store Wal-Mart chain in 37 states, mostly in small towns in the Sun Belt. Wal-Marts are a glorified version of the traditional American variety store offering most goods necessary to the family and home, from guns to toys, from wallpaper to garden tools, from clothing to cosmetics.

Walton's one concession to his great wealth was his twin-engine Cessna plane which he used to visit his stores and meet some of his 400, 000 employees. He often led employees in cheers and songs at store openings. These visits ended in late 1991 due to Walton's precarious health.

When Walton died, the news was announced to employees via the chain's own communications network. The stores will stay open 'as Mr. Walton wanted,' Shinkle said, but a special observance was being planned.

Walton began his career as a J.C. Penney Co. Inc. management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1938 and remained with Penney for four years before serving in the Army during World War II.

He then operated a group of Ben Franklin stores from 1945 to 1962 when he and his brother, James, opened the first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. They took their business public in 1970. He served as chairman and chief executive officer after stepping down as president in 1988.

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James, now 70, is a senior vice president of Wal-Mart worth about $100 million, but he takes no part in operating the company.

Known for his love of small-town life, Sam Walton resisted suggestions he move his headquarters from Bentonville, an area known as the Wal-Mart Valley, to a larger metropolis.

Wal-Mart passed Sears, Roebuck & Company and Kmart Corp., as the nation's largest retailer in 1990. In 1991, Wal-Mart's sales rose 35 percent despite the recession to $43.9 billion and profits rose 24.8 percent to $1.6 billion.

Sales for 1992 were projected at $55 billion.

Walton installed a management team to succeed him in 1988 and gradually withdrew from the day-to-day leadership of Wal-Mart. Glass, 56, has been president since 1988 and has introduced satellite video and computerized inventory systems along with other modern technology.

Walton entered University Hospital late last month for treatment of incurable bone cancer, multiple myeloma, which was diagnosed three years ago and has put in him a wheelchair. Earlier, he suffered from leukemia but that went into remission after treatments with interferon.

Walton was born March 29, 1918, in Kingfisher, Okla. He moved to Arkansas in 1945.

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He and wife, Helen, had four children, all grown, three sons and one daughter. The family controls 39 percent of Wal-Mart stock, worth $23.6 billion at the end of 1991. The stock is divided between five trusts, each worth approximately $4.7 billion.

The eldest of Walton's children, S. Robson Walton, a 47-year-old attorney, was once Wal-Mart's general counsel and is now vice chairman of the firm and . He is reported not to be interested in leadership of the company.

Another son, Jim, is president of Walton Enterprises and oversees the family's interests in five banks and real estate. Son John also is active in Walton Enterprises. Daughter Alice heads her own investment firm, Llama Co.

Shinkle said a private service is planned Tuesday.NEWLN: ------

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the Arkansas Cancer Research Center or the First Presbyterian Church Endowment Fund for Missions. Accounts have been established at the Bank of Bentonville, P.O. Box 1229, Bentonville, Ark. 72712.

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