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Published: Wednesday, 2/25/2009

Franchisee inspired his workers at 2 McDonald's

James Cobham, Jr., 65, a successful McDonald's franchise holder the last 25 years, died of an abdominal aneurysm on Sunday in Flower Hospital.

His business, Cobham Family Inc., owns McDonald's restaurants at Collingwood Boulevard and Dorr Street and at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue.

"He always treated people with dignity," said his wife, Barbara, the firm's bookkeeper. "That love was like a bond, and [employees] were willing to do their very best."

He inspired loyalty because he was loyal to employees, said Glenn E. Johnson, who was 15 in 1976 when he went to work at a restaurant Mr. Cobham managed in St. Louis. When Mr. Cobham bought a Toledo McDonald's franchise in 1984, Mr. Johnson came too as an assistant manager.

Mr. Cobham's protege became a manager and eventually owned five McDonald's in Toledo.

"He inspired you. He allowed me to operate his business as if it was my own, which allowed me the opportunity to have the experience," Mr. Johnson said. "He had a real sense of wanting to help people and seeing people prosper."

Mr. Cobham had that sense from a young age. He told The Blade in 1991 that all he could do growing up black in segregated Savannah, Ga., was deliver newspapers and cut yards.

"I always hoped for the day where I would be able to give jobs to people," Mr. Cobham said then.

The eldest of seven, he went to Knoxville College and received a bachelor's degree from the District of Columbia Teachers College. His first McDonald's job, part time, was in Washington. He climbed the managerial ladder in Chicago and St. Louis.

Mr. Cobham of West Toledo was a former treasurer of the National Black McDonald's Operators Association. He was on the boards of Toledo area charitable and community organizations, including as a founding board member of the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union and the then-Northwest Ohio Black Chamber of Commerce.

In 1993, the City League Hall of Fame inducted him as a distinguished citizen. In 1995, the Business Owners and Professionals Club of Toledo honored him for being the largest Toledo employer of inner-city youth.

His son, James "JC" Cobham III, 38, died Jan. 29.

Surviving are his wife, Barbara, whom he married Aug. 24, 1968; daughter, Julizene Cobham; father, James; brothers, George, Marshall, and Rodney; sisters, Cheryl Cobham-Gordon and Yolanda Cobham-Gilbert; and two grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending at the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to Ronald McDonald House Charities.



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