(Jan. 29, 1909-Feb. 8, 1976). Born on a farm near Thorntown, Indiana, Beesley received his BA from Wabash College (1929) before joining Eli Lilly And Company as a salesman. He began law studies at the University of Toledo but completed his degree at Indiana University School of Law (1943) after moving to Indianapolis.

Beesley quickly ascended through the Lilly ranks, becoming associate director of sales (1949), vice president for administration (1951), and executive vice president (1952). In April 1953, he became the fifth president of Lilly, the first from outside the Lilly family. Under his leadership, Lilly expanded to more than 20,000 employees and constructed plants around the world to tap foreign markets. Beesley also served as director of Eli Lilly International Corporation and six Lilly foreign subsidiaries. As chair of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, Beesley was an important spokesman for the industry.

Following the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (1961), Beesley, at the request of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, coordinated the delivery of several million dollars’ worth of drugs to ransom over 1,000 prisoners of war. In 1961, he also testified before the Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which resulted in the Drug Amendments of 1962 that increased FDA regulations over the industry. As a result, Lilly established a legislative liaison office in Washington, D.C.

Beesley sat on the Lilly Endowment board of directors from 1951 until his death, serving as vice president (1960-1971) and president (1972-1976), again the first non-Lilly family member to hold that position. During his tenure as president, the endowment”s grant payouts for education, religion, and community services/development increased from $10 million to more than $50 million. Beesley was involved in many civic and business organizations, including the Associated Colleges of Indiana (Independent Colleges Of Indiana),  Second Presbyterian Church, the American and Indiana bar associations, and General Motors, where he served as a director.

Revised March 2021

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