As financial secretary of Local 135, United Steelworkers of America, Paul R. Dobrzenski of Cheektowaga was opinionated and, as a result, respected.
"You have to be outspoken with the union to be a union leader. You have to tell them the truth," said the local's president, Mark Kurkowski. "People don't like hearing the truth. But he was one of the more honest guys I've ever known."
Mr. Dobrzenski, 60, had been one of the union leaders in the thick of negotiations with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. to end a 12-week strike and return workers to their jobs in the Town of Tonawanda and plants nationwide.
A new contract was ratified Thursday. On Friday, Mr. Dobrzenski and other leaders of Local 135 met with managers at Tonawanda's Goodyear-Dunlop plant to iron out return-to-work details.
Then Saturday, a family member went to check on Mr. Dobrzenski, who lived alone, and found him dead on his couch, apparently of natural causes. An autopsy is to be conducted.
"It was shocking," said local Vice President Kathy Kluczynski. "It is going to be very hard on the union membership, because he knew his job."
"He was a great mentor," she said.
Mr. Dobrzenski had displayed the symptoms of a cold during one bargaining trip to Pittsburgh. "He made nothing of it," Kurkowski said. "He went to the drugstore and got some Nyquil."
Contract talks are stressful, especially in the pressure cooker of a strike.
"This was a rough one for us," Kurkowski said. "We were out since Oct. 5."
Mr. Dobrzenski, however, had been through trying times before -- a 15-day strike in 1991 for example, when he was the local's acting president. "I'm glad to see people get back to work," he told a Buffalo News reporter after an accord was reached in November of that year.
Mr. Dobrzenski graduated from Burgard Vocational High School and Bryant & Stratton Business Institute and served in the Army. He also had worked for a funeral home, which earned him the enduring nickname "Digger."
His career was largely spent serving the union local. He had been financial secretary for 17 years and before his death also carried the title of policy representative.
"Paul's middle name was union," Kurkowski said. "He lived in that office 24 hours a day. It was the union and his grandkids. That was all we talked about."
In addition to his four grandchildren, Mr. Dobrzenski is survived by two sons, Michael and Mark, and a daughter, Paula Kuczkowski.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 73 Adam St., City of Tonawanda.
-- Matthew Spina