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Former Cooper CEO Pat Rooney dies

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Pat Rooney, 67, former Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. chairman, CEO and president, died earlier this morning at his home in Findlay, Ohio, after a long illness.

"He brought great honor to the company throughout his career and was named to the prestigious Tire Industry Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000, which recognized him as a leader in the industry," said the company in an official tribute to Rooney. "He will be greatly missed. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Sondra, and their four grown children."

"The thing about Pat that impressed me the most was the respect he had in the community," said former Modern Tire Dealer Editor Lloyd Stoyer upon hearing of his passing. "The (Cooper) employees loved him, the community loved him. You can't say that about very many people. He was just a wonderful guy."

Rooney retired from Cooper Tire on June 3, 2000. In 44 years as a full-time employee, Rooney rose through the ranks as a trainee, sales rep, a sales executive and top company officer, quietly helping Cooper maintain its reputation as perhaps the world's best-run tire company.

"In an era of mergers and consolidations, small-town Cooper has not only remained independent, but has continually set new records for sales and profits -- in no small part because of Rooney's far-sightedness and reputation for fairness and integrity," wrote Stoyer in MTD's May 2000 issue.

Following are some excerpts from Stoyer's article:

* Rooney grew up in Findlay, Ohio, headquarters for Cooper, played football there in high school and college and was molded by Findlay's laid-back culture, old-fashioned work ethic and concern for people -- attributes also shared by Cooper.

* He never worked anywhere but at Cooper, where he began while still a student at Findlay College by chauffeuring company executives an hour's drive up the interstate to the Toledo (Ohio) Airport.

* "At a time when price clubs, mass merchants and even a new car manufacturer have aggressively scrambled for a piece of the replacement tire market, Cooper -- and Rooney -- have remained unflinching champions of the independent tire dealer," wrote Stoyer.

* In a town with few secrets, most people, even long-time acquaintances, have little idea how much Rooney has done for the community and for the tire industry.

At Findlay University, where Rooney has served for years as chairman of the trustees, Rooney kicked off a $32 million fund drive with a personal gift and sat down with a number of major donors, some of whom University President Kenneth Zirkle believes would not have contributed otherwise. Money raised has made possible new fine arts, health, science and athletic facilities including an ice arena.

Rooney has served on the seven-member executive committee and the board of directors at the Rubber Manufactures Association (RMA), where members wanted to honor him on his retirement. While discussing a possible gift, a top executive from a competitive tire manufacturer commented, "Whatever it is, it won't be enough."

The RMA gave Findlay University $1,000, a gesture Rooney called "a complete surprise and one I will cherish forever."

* In a town where employees at all levels mix at church, athletic and civic events and at the supermarket, Rooney gets smiles and "hellos" from everybody.

* A factory employee joked that it's tough to fire up workers for contract negotiations because union members "respect and trust" Pat Rooney. For years, he has sought out local union presidents to personally discuss issues and resolve problems before they become major issues, often during a round of golf.

* "He has always led by example," said one Cooper executive. "His work ethic and compassion for Cooper employees is legendary."

In 1997, he wanted to share with employees Cooper's vision for the future. So, with other Cooper executives, he met with every Cooper employee at every Cooper location, working 20-hour days to talk to workers on all three factory shifts.

* Rooney was born in Findlay in 1935, the third youngest of 11 children in a very close-knit family. His father was a butcher who ran a small grocery and, with everyone pulling together, all 11 children were graduated from college.

Rooney chose to attend what was then Findlay College, where he played end on the football team and prepared himself to be a football coach.

While in school he met another Findlay girl, Sondra "Sandy" Deeds, during spring break. She was attending Ohio University at the time and was engaged to be married.

Undaunted, Pat Rooney told a friend, "I'm going to marry that girl."

"Yeah," said the friend, "when somebody lands on the moon."

At the time both things seemed unlikely. However, Sandy was apparently interested, too, though Rooney didn't call her for a date until nearly three years later! They were married in 1959. They have three daughters and a son.

* After working part time for Cooper while in college, Rooney decided to forgo a coaching career and joined the company in 1956 as a sales trainee. He became a territory sales rep two years later and, shortly after marrying Sandy, moved to Syracuse, N.Y.

The Rooneys also lived in Clarksdale, Miss., where a Cooper tube and tread rubber plant is located. Pat headed commercial and tread rubber sales.

By 1965, Rooney was made general sales manager of Cooper brand tires, and in 1969 he was elected vice president of the company. In 1984, he took over responsibility for all tire division operations and in 1990 was elected president of the tire company and a director of Cooper Tire & Rubber.

A year later, he was named president and COO and in 1994 added the titles of chairman and CEO.

* In 1999, when Tom Dattilo joined the company as Rooney's heir apparent, Rooney transferred the president's responsibilities to Dattilo, who was also named to the newly created position of COO.

On April 28, 2000, Rooney passed on to Dattilo the titles of chairman and CEO in preparation for retiring completely on June 3, a few months before turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for Cooper executives.

* Cooper people say it's no coincidence that Rooney's years as a top company executive have been spectacularly successful ones for Cooper, wrote Stoyer. Quarter after quarter the company has recorded record sales and profits.... Rooney called it "a team effort."

* In giving his all to Cooper, Rooney has not forgotten his obligation to his community and the tire industry. In addition to his board activities at Findlay University, Rooney has been active in the chamber of commerce and other civic groups in Findlay.

And besides his RMA service, Rooney and Cooper have probably been the most loyal tiremaker supporters of the Tire Association of North America (now the Tire Industry Association).

Visitation for Rooney will be Friday, Dec. 20, from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at Kirkpatrick-Behnke Funeral Home, 500 Lima Avenue in Findlay. The funeral home's phone number is (419) 422-2626.

The funeral will be held Saturday, Dec. 21, at 11 a.m. at St. Michael's Catholic Church, 617 W. Main Cross in Findlay. The church's phone number is (419) 422-2646.

Memorials can be made to the Patrick Rooney Scholarship Fund at The University of Findlay, 1000 N. Main St., Findlay, OH 45840.

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