Nov. 21, 1927 - May 26, 2017
Richard K. Feather's handshake was his word, and it was a rather handy reputation to be saddled with over the course of his long career as chief labor negotiator on management's behalf at The Buffalo News.
Mr. Feather, who worked his way up at the newspaper from a job in the front office, doing a variety of chores, to senior vice president before his retirement in 1988, died Friday of natural causes at Buffalo General Medical Center. He was 89.
"He started as a copy kid and he worked his way up through the organization," said Karen Feather Zielinski, Mr. Feather's daughter.
"That's quite a jump. It doesn't happen much these days," she added.
Born in Latrobe, Pa., Mr. Feather moved to Buffalo with his family when he was about 10 years old. He was a 1946 graduate of Lafayette High School and he graduated from Bryant & Stratton Business Institute in 1949. At the end of World War II, Mr. Feather served as a private 1st class in the Army Air Corps, stationed at Elgin Field, Fla., from February 1946 to March 1947.
Launching his up-from-the ranks journey right out of college, Mr. Feather joined The Buffalo News in 1950, initially working as an advertising clerk with the newspaper. He then had a stint in the accounting department, and in 1956 was shifted to the payroll department. Six years later, Mr. Feather assumed the duties of personnel manager and, five years after that, added the duties of assistant labor-relations manager.
In April 1977, Mr. Feather was promoted to vice president and labor-relations manager. Then, in October 1983, he advanced to senior vice president and director of industrial relations.
It was a feat accomplished through his talent, hard work and his impeccable demeanor, as the late editor-in-chief Murray B. Light wrote in a June 28, 1988 column just prior to Mr. Feather's retirement. The editor recalled the departing senior vice president as "the most respected and well-liked individual of the more than 1,000 employees on the payroll."
Light added that Mr. Feather was "the man who often (was) referred to as 'Mr. Integrity' at The News," and that he maintained a good rapport with all the people in the company.
"The respect he has earned has been because of his credibility," Light wrote of Mr. Feather. "People know if there's a handshake with Feather, that's it, it's absolutely unalterable."
Karen Feather Zielinski said she observed the same respect and affection for her father during her brief time as a part-time employee at The News.
"I never heard a bad word said about him. They always called him Mr. Feather," she said. "It was said of him by labor people that his handshake was his word. That was his legacy. The union people respected him... and they knew that his word was good."
Speaking for himself, Mr. Feather explained his core philosophy in 1985 for an interview in an internal publication at The News:
"I have a basic philosophy in life, which I believe when I'm negotiating (with the unions), too, and that's that you treat people like you want yourself to be treated, and always be able to laugh at yourself."
Away from work, Mr. Feather was an avid golfer. He was a member of the Twilight Golf League and the Hole In One Club at Byrncliff Golf Course. He also enjoyed coaching Little League Baseball. He was a longtime board member of the former Buffalo News/Rotary Club Crippled Children's Camp, supporting Cradle Beach, and served as vice president and as president for two terms in 1986 and 1987.
In addition, he was a member of Ely Parker Lodge, 1002 F&AM; the Newspaper Personnel Relations Association and the Industrial Relations Research Association of WNY. Mr. Feather was a 50-year charter member of Brighton Community Church in the Town of Tonawanda, and previously served as its chairman of deacons and a member of its board of trustees.
He and his wife, the former Doris E. Foy, celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary on May 21.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Feather is survived by three sons, Richard K. Jr., Jeffrey and Kirk A.; 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Brighton Community Church, 1225 Brighton Road, Tonawanda.