EXETER, N.H. — Robert M. Schaeberle, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Nabisco, died Sept. 20 at an assisted living home in Exeter. He was 88.

A native of Newark, N.J., Mr. Schaeberle graduated in 1945 from Dartmouth College. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Navy for three years. He held the rank of lieutenant commander USNR (Ret.) and remained active in the Naval Reserve until 1972.

Mr. Schaeberle began his career with Nabisco as a trainee in 1946 and rose to become the chairman and chief executive officer in 1973. He led the company through the 1981 merger with Standard Brands. R.J. Reynolds acquired the company in 1985, which at the time was the largest non-oil merger in U.S. history. He remained as chairman of Nabisco Brands Inc. after the merger of Nabisco and R.J. Reynolds. He retired at the end of 1986.

Two years later RJR Nabisco was acquired by the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in a $25 billion transaction. The fight between K.K.R. and Nabisco president F. Ross Johnson was later described in the 1990 best seller, “Barbarians at the Gate.”

Mr. Schaeberle was the founding chairman of Morris Tomorrow, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Morris County, N.J. The Robert M. Schaeberle Leadership Award is given out annually to a deserving individual who works toward furthering that goal. He was also very involved with the United Way and Boy Scouts of America organizations in New Jersey.

Mr. Schaeberle was predeceased by his first wife, Barbara Slockbower Schaeberle, in 1981, and by his second wife, Barbara Schaeberle, in 2003. He is survived by three sons, Robert Kim Schaeberle and wife, Beatrice, of Alton, N.H., and Longwood, Fla.; Mark Schaeberle and his wife, Jeannie, of Glenwood, Md.; and Gregg Schaeberle of Newport Beach, Calif.; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, Bruce and Mark.