Burt Shavitz, 80, who spun his affinity for nature and beekeeping into a multimillion-dollar personal care products company, died on Sunday in Bangor, Maine.
Burt's Bees origin story is an unlikely one, and Shavitz, a bearded, free-spirited beekeeper, was an unlikely co-founder. But in the summer of 1984, the universe aligned when Shavitz picked up a hitchhiker, artist Roxanne Quimby. The two hit it off, and soon, according to the company's website, Quimby was making candles out of Shavitz's extra beeswax and selling them at craft fairs. From there, they expanded the line to include lotions, soaps and Burt's Bees most recognizable product, lip balm.
Despite becoming the name and face of Burt's Bees – his bearded likeness, rendered in woodcut, serves as Burt's Bees distinctive logo – Shavitz walked away from the company he started, in large part due to the disintegration of his relationship with Quimby ( according to the New York Times, the two were business partners as well as lovers). In 1999, she bought him out, trading him a house in rural Maine, worth approximately $130,000, for his one-third stake in the company. While the reasons behind the move are murky, last summer Shavitz claimed that his departure was prompted by his affair with a Burt's Bee employee.
In 2007, Burt's Bees was bought by the Clorox Company for $913 million. If Shavitz had kept his original stake in the company, he would have walked away with $59 million, according to the Times. While he was compensated in other ways besides the Maine house – Quimby claimed to have given him $4 million after the sale was complete, and he was paid an undisclosed sum by Clorox to serve as Burt's Bees "brand ambassador – the total never came close to $59 million.
Shavitz spent the rest of his life in Maine. While his relationship with Quimby never recovered, the lost windfall didn't appear to upset him much. Last summer, he told The New Yorker: “I’ve got everything I need: a nice piece of land with hawks and owls and incredible sunsets, and the good will of my neighbors.”