Richard Degener, who capped a career in the automotive field by overseeing markets on two continents for glassmaker Pilkington PLC, died July 24 in St. Luke’s Hospital, Maumee, of a heart attack. He was 75.
His health had been failing and he was scheduled for aortic valve surgery in August, his wife, Joycelyn, said.
Mr. Degener of Sylvania Township retired in 1999 as chief operating officer of Pilkington’s North American and European auto glass replacement markets.
“He was a great leader, because he led by example,” said Roberta Steedman, his assistant. “He treated the company’s money as if it were his own. He made that business successful. We made money while he was in leadership, and he made it fun.
“He was tough. He challenged the people who worked for him to do a good job. He didn’t make it seem like work,” Mrs. Steedman said.
At home, he didn’t so much talk about the business as he spoke of the people he did business with, his wife said.
“He was a private, more introverted person. He really cared deeply and sincerely about people,” his wife said. “He had a sense of personal responsibility that extended first to his family, and then his friends and business associates.”
He commuted frequently to England, home to Pilkington, and enjoyed his time there. He also traveled to Japan after a Japanese firm acquired an ownership interest in the glassmaker.
“He was my boss and became a close friend,” said Mike Pollack, who as director of European sales and marketing worked for Mr. Degener, and traveled to Europe with him.
“He was a great mentor, and he was a great leader, and he was a great humanist,” Mr. Pollack said. “He pursued every initiative with integrity. And he made sure that he rose above the noise to deliver the best result possible in the most positive way.”
Mr. Degener went to the firm then known as Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. in 1988.
Earlier, he was employed by Federal-Mogul & Moog, with assignments in Detroit, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.
He was born Dec. 2, 1937, to Eileen and Richard Degener and grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where in junior high he ran the jukebox during lunch hour dances.
“We danced together,” his wife said. They reunited years later, after the death of his first wife.
He was a graduate of Grosse Pointe South High School. He had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He was a veteran of the Air Force Reserve.
His first car was a 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible. Decades after, he found an Olds of that year and model and restored it, and received awards for the vehicle at classic car shows. He also restored a hydroplane, which he donated to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame.
He and his first wife, the former Mary Beth Nelson, married in 1963. She died in 1987.
Surviving are his wife, the Rev. Joycelyn Degener, whom he married Feb. 13, 1988; daughters, Tammy Weick and Sally Ford; sister, Sally Hickman, and four grandchildren.
Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Sept. 7 in Sylvania United Church of Christ, where he was a member. Arrangements are by Walker Funeral Home, Sylvania Township.
The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor’s choice; Cherry Street Mission; Maumee Valley Save-A-Pet; Toledo Symphony, or Toledo Museum of Art.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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