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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Exec specialized in labor relations for building firm

J. Neil Crowley, a retired labor relations executive for the former A. Bentley & Sons Co. who early in his career was a federal mediator, died Sunday of apparent congestive heart failure at the Jewish Hospital, Blue Ash, Ohio. He was 96.

Until a few weeks ago, he lived in Sylvania.

At A. Bentley & Sons, Mr. Crowley was vice president of personnel and secretary of the firm, a large construction company that built many Toledo-area landmarks until it closed two decades ago.

"He was not only a nice man but a very knowledgeable man as far as labor management was concerned," said Lou Thomson, retired executive director of the Labor-Management-Citizens Committee. "He was one of those people who could see both sides of the story."

"He had a great rapport with the building trades, but he didn't give them everything."

A lawyer by training, his role in contract negotiations introduced him to many people throughout the city, Carol Kilroy, his daughter, said.

"We used to kid him and call him 'Mr. Toledo' because he knew everybody," she said. He retired in 1976.

She recalled a story her father told about a leader of the ironworkers union who introduced himself at the start of negotiations in the 1960s. The man told him his family prayed for Mr. Crowley every night.

"My father said, 'Well, why do you do that?'●" she said. "●'You saved our house a long time ago,'●" the union official replied, according to Ms. Kilroy said.

The family had never forgotten that Mr. Crowley filed legal documents at no charge to help them forestall foreclosure of their home during the Great Depression, Ms. Kilroy said.

A Toledo native, Mr. Crowley was a 1931 graduate of the former St. John's College and received his law degree in 1935 from the University of Michigan Law School.

He was a captain in the Army Air Corps who served as an intelligence officer during World War II. After the war, he was a field representative for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He joined Bentley in 1952.

His first wife, Audrey, died in 1972. His second wife, Virginia, died in 1995.

Surviving are his sons, J. Neil III and John; daughters, Constance Morton and Carol Kilroy; stepsons, Bruce and John Campbell; stepdaughter, Cathy Mauder; 15 grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren, and six step-great-grandchildren.

Services will be 11 a.m. tomorrow in Gesu Church. The body will be in the Coyle Funeral Home after 4 p.m. today.

The family suggests tributes to St. John's Jesuit High School.



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