The last time I had the opportunity to speak with Pat Rooney was during the International Tire Expo last November. It was at a cocktail party in a room teeming with people, loud with animated conversation coming from every direction.
He was standing alone. No entourage. No underlings. No posse.
To me, that situation was the perfect embodiment of Pat.
Unassuming. Standing fast and unfazed as all around him buzzed. Humbled to be part of this amazing industry. Certainly not lonely, but never looking for undue attention. Unpretentious. Quietly confident and comfortable with who he was and with his position in the world.
He was as much the essence of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. as Cooper was of his personality.
Over the past few years, I hadn’t had many opportunities to see Pat prior to that evening in Las Vegas. Yet every time I ran into him, Pat remembered me. Or at least he did a damn fine job making me think he remembered who I was. I really didn’t care. Because I had the chance to spend time with someone I truly respected and admired.
Someone every person in this industry should try to emulate.
Other top execs of other tire companies would be up to their eyeballs in people the second they hit a room. Not Pat. Not that he wasn’t worthy of the attention. Not that people did like him or want to be around him. Much like the company he headed, the spotlight was never his style.
He enjoyed conversing with people. Listening more than talking, actually. Didn’t matter if they were dealers, employees or competitors. He took as much genuine interest in those he met for the first time as he did in people he’d known for years. But if you asked about his personal life, his answers were short and sweet. Followed immediately with a question about your doings.
He spent 44 years of his life with one company. Unheard of in this age of resume-building, job-hopping and mutual disloyalty. In 1956, the fresh-faced Rooney set a clear path for himself. Guided by Midwestern sensibilities and values. Willing to labor in a small Midwestern city, in a complex, often unforgiving industry. Well away from the "glamour" of Akron. Probably never dreaming he’d become chairman and president.
Along the way, Rooney and Cooper grew up together. Meeting every challenge. Holding fast to a set of values and sense of loyalty that had long ago been cast aside by others.
If you asked Pat, he was the real beneficiary of that 44-year relationship. Because he got to work with a company he loved and with people he truly cherished.
I hate having to use the word "was" in referring to Pat. But true to his word, true to Cooper’s well-established retirement policy, his 44-year career comes to an end this month. And with the same quiet dignity that was a hallmark of his tenure at the helm of Cooper, Pat unfortunately moves into the tire industry’s past tense.
We’ve all been graced to know many, many outstanding individuals in the tire industry. But I tell you right now, there will never meet another Pat Rooney. This business — every business – could use more Pat Rooneys.
Hit ‘em straight, Pat.