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St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Frank Atlee, former chairman and interim CEO of Monsanto Co., has died, the company announced. He was 73.

Monsanto said he died Monday (April 28, 2014) after a short illness.

Mr. Atlee joined Monsanto's board in 2000 with little knowledge of plant biotechnology. He quickly became enthusiastic about its scientific and social potential.

"We have a chance to change the world with this technology," he told the Post-Dispatch in 2002 after he was named interim CEO.

He defended Monsanto against critics of its development of genetically modified seeds. The company's leadership in such crops has attracted the ire of environmentalists who fear long-term harm from the foods.

"We are not letting up," Mr. Atlee told critics in a shareholders meeting in 2003.

He graduated from Lynchburg College in Virginia with a degree in biology and chemistry, served three years as an officer in the Marines, and spent 28 years with American Cyanamid Co., retiring as president and chairman.

He joined Monsanto's board in 2000 as an outsider and was named "non-executive chairman." During a shakeup, he became interim president and chief executive officer from December 2002 to May 2003. He retired from the board in 2010 to his home in Arizona.

In a statement, Hugh Grant, chairman and CEO, praised Mr. Atlee for "helping us grow from a young, newly independent company to the global business we are today."

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