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Othon Ochsner, importer and connoisseur of the finer things, dies at 83

Published July 17, 2017

CHICAGO (BRAIN) — Othon Henry Ochsner II, the president of Ochsner International, died Friday at age 83 after a short illness. Ochsner was well known in the industry for his love of the sport of cycling and of the finer things in life, including food, wine, automobiles, world travel and bicycles. In addition to running the distribution business that his father founded in 1969, Ochsner authored several books of restaurant reviews and was the founder of the Ochsner Museum of Contemporary Art, Automobiles and Bicycles in Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Ochsner International imported and distributed Campagnolo, Assos, DT Swiss and other European cycling brands. Othon, a large man with impressive white eyebrows and hair in his later years, was a notable presence at every cycling event he attended. His presence initially intimidated some, but most soon found him to be gracious, generous and engagingly passionate about his many interests.

"He was definitely one of a kind," said Tom Kattus, the general manager of Campagnolo North America. Kattus met Ochsner in 1990, when Kattus was looking for distributors for a product he developed.

"I flew back to Chicago to meet with Othon, and I'd heard scary stories about him, and what a giant, imposing man he was. And he was larger than life, for sure. But I always found him to be very generous and he was certainly super kind to me over the years," Kattus said.

Ochsner enjoyed entertaining members of the bike industry at events worldwide, often hosting them for meals at fine restaurants, where he would call ahead to be sure the chef knew he was bringing special guests. At trade shows, visitors often left the Ochsner booth with a box of Toblerone chocolates, which Ochsner also imported.

"We always looked forward to seeing Othon at CABDA or Interbike," said Ray Keener, who met Oschner first when he worked at an Illinois bike shop. "Despite the measly hundreds of dollars a year we spent with Ochsner on Campy small parts, he was always ready with a smile, a crushing handshake, and a restaurant recommendation," said Keener, who is now the executive director of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.

Ochsner began his career in the legal department of Walgreen's, later joining Porsche Car Imports and then Pirelli Tire, where he was national sales manager before returning to Chicago to join the family import business in 1973. He and his father founded Ochsner & Ochsner Imports in 1974 and in 1981 he incorporated that business into Ochsner International. 

His father, Othon Ochsner I, had been a top cyclist in Switzerland in the early 1900s, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1922. He worked as a chef before launching the bicycle business in 1969. Othon I served as the president and CEO of the business until his death in 1981.

Visiting hours will be held Friday from 10am-noon at the Oschner headquarters and museum at 86 Albrecht Drive in Lake Bluff. A funeral service will be at noon at the same location. An internment will be private.

Please watch for more about Ochsner's life in the August 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer.

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