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William T. Fitzgerald, 1926-2012: Exec played role in rise of Cooper Tire

FINDLAY -- William T. Fitzgerald, a retired president and chief operating officer of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. who was an executive as the firm rose into the Fortune 500, died Friday in his Findlay home of congestive heart failure. He was 86.

He retired in 1991. Ivan Gorr, who was then chairman and chief executive, wrote to employees: "For 38 years, Bill, who started as a field salesman, has dedicated his career to building Cooper into a leading world competitor in our industry."

In 1992, Mr. Fitzgerald was inducted into the Tire Industry Association Hall of Fame.

"He appreciated his peers thought him worthy, but he never [sought] recognition. That wasn't part of his character," his son John said.

An Akron native, he initially wanted to work for a hometown tire company. Goodyear turned him down, his son said. Cooper hired him in 1953. He was promoted through the sales and marketing ranks and was elected vice president of marketing in 1968. He was president of the tire division from 1970-89 and company executive vice president from 1982-89.

He was competitive, yet Modern Tire Dealer began an editorial about his retirement, "This nice guy's going out a winner" and called him "one of the nicest guys we know in the tire business."

He helped form the Findlay-Hancock County Community Development Foundation and was its first president. He also had a leading role in developing a free-trade zone, Tall Timbers Industrial Park.

"He thought Findlay was a great place to raise a family," his son Dennis said. "He wanted to make sure people had a chance to have a good job and a standard of living."

He was born Sept. 1, 1926, to Mary and John Fitzgerald. He was a 1944 graduate of St. Vincent High School in Akron. He was a stateside Navy veteran of World War II. He took an Honor Flight last year to the World War II Memorial in Washington.

He was a 1950 graduate of the University of Akron. In 1987, he received the university's distinguished business alumni award. He and his wife endowed the university's William T. and Rita B. Fitzgerald Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. He was an alumnus of the Harvard University advanced management program. He received a Silver Beaver award for his service to the area's Boy Scouts council.

Surviving are his wife, Rita, whom he married Sept. 6, 1947; sons, Thomas J., Dennis, M., John W., and James P. Fitzgerald; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren, and three step-grandchildren.

Visitation is 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Tuesday in Coldren-Crates Funeral Home, Findlay. Services will be at 10 a.m. in St. Michael the Archangel Church, Bright Road, Findlay, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the St. Michael School Foundation; Bridge Home Health & Hospice; Boy Scouts of America Black Swamp Council, or the Hancock County Historical Society.

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