On April 28, I was looking through the Memorials section of the Beacon Journal and saw the memorial to Justin T. Rogers. I did not really know Justin that well, but I met him a couple of times. My dad, Carl A. Ruther, however, did know Justin because he was employed for nearly 40 years with Ohio Edison.

Interestingly enough, my dad was the union president during the late 1950s and early 1960s. As you can imagine that was a tumultuous time for labor relations between employees and unions, and when Justin first came to Ohio Edison, he was the chief labor attorney and negotiator. My dad over the years shared stories with me about their negotiations and Justin’s first-class personality and strong leadership skills. My dad had extremely high respect for Justin not only for his outstanding educational achievements (Princeton graduate and University of Michigan law degree) but more important his genuine approach and humble attitude when going through labor negotiations.

My dad would say when they first met, Justin would use terms the union council did not completely understand. So at the next meeting, they brought dictionaries so when he used one of those words they would say “hang on” and look up the meaning then say “OK” to move on. Justin would laugh and think that was great.

When an agreement was struck, the union guys would go out to his car and remove the tires from his VW bug and put the car on blocks with a note that said, “Good negotiations.” Justin with his great personality would get a big smile on his face.

Later my father moved into middle management as the line supervisor in Barberton, and Justin rose all the way to CEO. As a young CPA, I bumped into Justin at a function and was introduced. He asked me whether Carl Ruther was my father. I said yes, and he said: Your dad is an outstanding person and negotiator who he knew the employees needed to be properly compensated and the company needed to make a profit. He added: Your dad believed in “fair day's work for a fair day's pay,” and he was able to hold the company and the union employees accountable to that.

About seven years ago my father passed away. At the funeral home we were receiving guests and who walks through the door but Justin Rogers. Here is the former CEO of Ohio Edison taking the time to pay respect to my dad a very middle-class man. They had probably have not seen each other in 20 years or more. I told Justin that I was sure my dad would appreciate his being here, and his response to me was very simple. He said: “I went to all the union guys calling hours when they passed away because those were my guys.” WOW! Think about that.

The mutual respect that Justin and these guys had for each other is really something that if you think back to how tense some of those union agreements could get, but they had a mutual respect that they were able to get to reasonable agreements for both parties and still walk away with a true appreciation for each other. We need more of that today.

On the same day I saw the Justin Rogers memorial, the Beacon Journal highlighted the article "Connecting Akron: Residents at community forums identify solutions to improve their city." Sometimes a reminder of history can help, and if we can follow this lesson about mutual respect, I believe Akron, Ohio and the country can reach higher goals and be a better place for everyone to live. If the mutual respect concept is embraced, the entire community will be a better place.

This intangible mutual respect is critical in Connecting Akron. #RIP Justin, Carl, as well as all others who lived their lives in this manner.

 

Ruther is a partner at the accounting firm of Bober, Markey and Fedorovich.