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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2013

Ronald Coughenour, 1933-2013 ; U.S. postal worker led advances for unions

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ronald E. Coughenour, a retired letter carrier and a Toledo-area labor leader who projected calm as he fought for workers’ rights, died Thursday in the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. He was 79.

The cause of death was not known, his wife, Phyllis, said. He went to the hospital Thursday with breathing difficulty and heart trouble.

From 1991 to 2003, Mr. Coughenour was executive secretary and treasurer of the Toledo Area AFL-CIO, made up of unions that represent thousands. He later was the council’s legislative coordinator. He formerly was chairman of the United Labor Committee and an officer in the Toledo Port Council.

“He was a consensus-builder,” said George Tucker, who succeeded him in the AFL-CIO posts. “He really felt for people and their problems.”

He served as a peacemaker who encouraged others to see both sides, his wife said. “He had a calming effect on meetings,” she said.

Mr. Tucker added: “He was a tough negotiator. He had the working people in mind, and he never deviated from that. He lived by his word. He was just one guy I always looked up to.

“In my decisions today, I still ask myself, ‘What would Ron do?’ ”

In 1998, Mr. Coughenour and UAW leaders Jack Sizemore and Bruce Baumhower were credited with helping avert a Toledo teachers’ strike by brokering a contract settlement between the union and school board.

He was a longtime vice president of Branch 100, National Association of Letter Carriers. He preferred that role, his wife said, because it allowed him to speak informally with station managers and iron out problems.

To honor his union service, he was named grand marshal of the 2006 downtown Toledo Labor Day parade.

He served on the Lucas County Democratic Party’s executive committee and was vice president of the Anne Grady Services Foundation Board. He’d served on the local boards of the American Red Cross and United Way; Lucas County Developmental Disability Board; county convention and visitors bureau board, and a county citizens’ levy review committee.

“I thought very highly of him,” former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said. “He was about as decent and fair and honorable a man as I’ve ever encountered in my years of public service.”

Born July 5, 1933, to Stella and Roy Coughenour, he was a Scott High graduate and worked on the assembly line at Willys-Overland Motors before stateside Army service.

For much of his 30-year postal career, he delivered mail to the Lincolnshire area of West Toledo. He retired in 1984.

“To this day, he could tell you who lived in which house,” his wife said.

Whatever his labor and community commitments, he made time for grandchildren’s — and great-grandchildren’s — school and athletic functions.

“His family and their activities came first,” his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, Phyllis, whom he married Aug. 6, 1955; son, Ronald; daughters, Janice Stockdale and Penni Pelow; eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Sunday and Monday in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The family suggests tributes to the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, or Anne Grady Foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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