I.W. Abel, 78, who rose from being an Ohio brickyard worker to serving 12 years as international president of the powerful United Steelworkers of America and becoming a labor and civic statesman, died of cancer Aug. 10 at his home in Malvern, Ohio.
Mr. Abel was elected president in 1965, unseating incumbent David J. McDonald in a close vote. He was reelected in 1969 and 1973. He did not run for reelection in 1977. His successor, Lloyd McBride, won with Mr. Abel's support.
Mr. Abel was the last of the steelworkers union's founders to lead the group. He served 12 years as secretary-treasurer before becoming president.
His presidency spanned an era of labor peace and plenty. Production, wages and benefits boomed, wages doubled and pension benefits increased. According to government figures, steelworkers then achieved the highest wage of any industrial workers. He also saw union membership grow from about 1 million to 1.4 million.
Mr. Abel helped pioneer a no-strike deal, called the Experimental Negotiating Agreement, which sought to end uneven production and buying caused by worries of labor unrest in the steel industry.
In a 1986 interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Abel said he believed that his greatest accomplishment as union president was campaigning for passage of a federal law protecting employe pensions.
The steelworkers now have about 650,000 members. Union membership has decreased largely because of cutbacks in steel mills caused by foreign competition.
"Abe was not only a lifelong and dedicated trade unionist who helped forge landmark improvements in the lot of working people, he was also a compassionate human being who strove to improve the total society in which we live," said Lynn Williams, current union president.
In addition to his work with the union, Mr. Abel served on President Lyndon Johnson's Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, which issued a sweeping indictment of the slow pace of civil rights progress in the country.
He had long been a proponent of the civil rights movement and believed that the trade union movement should be allied to it. Williams said Mr. Abel "knew that the path to social and economic justice began with the right to hold a job. As such, he was an outspoken champion of equal opportunity and an unbridled foe to those who would deny civil rights."
Mr. Abel also served on the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament and the President's Task Force on Air Pollution. He was an alternate representative to the United Nations General Assembly. He also served on the board of the National Planning Association and had been a delegate to International Labor Organization meetings.
He was a member of the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education and a past president of Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.
Iorwith Wilbur Abel was born Aug. 11, 1908, in Magnolia, Ohio. He attended Canton (Ohio) Actual Business College before leaving to become an office boy. He left that job for a chance in a foundry where he discovered wages were higher and work more regular.
During the Depression, he found himself working in a brickyard, firing kilns at 16 cents an hour and working a 12-hour, seven-day week. He became active in the labor movement after losing that job.
"I guess it was at that job more than any other that helped develop my social thinking," he said in an interview. "The Depression taught me that a strong labor movement was necessary to protect workers and give them a measure of dignity and security."
He moved around Ohio to various mills, but by the 1930s had gained a reputation as "the biggest union hell-raiser in Canton." He joined the Congress of Industrial Organization in 1936 and about that time became active in the new Steel Workers Organizing Committee. A volunteer organizer, he unionized the plant where he worked, Timken Roller Bearing Co. in Canton. He helped establish local No. 1123, later serving as its president.
Mr. Abel remained a dues-paying member of the local until his death.
He was a union staff member from 1935 to 1942, when the steelworkers union was formed. He was the union's director of District 27 from 1942 to 1952. After the death of the union's first international president, Phil Murray, Mr. Abel was elected secretary-treasurer on the ticket headed by incumbent president McDonald.
Mr. Abel later ran for president, charging McDonald with "tuxedo unionism" and saying that he spent more time at evening galas with steel management than worrying about his own rank and file. Mr. Abel also said that under McDonald, policymaking had become concentrated in the hands of a few, and vowed he would change all that.
Mr. Abel won the election by a vote of 308,910 to 298,768.
His first wife, the former Bernice N. Joseph, whom he married in 1930, died in 1982. Survivors include his wife, the former Martha L. Turvey, two daughters by his first marriage, and five grandchildren.
WILLIAM C. DOHERTY, 85, former president of the National Association of Letter Carriers who later served as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica, died of congestive heart failure Aug. 9 at the Collingswood Nursing Center in Rockville.
Mr. Doherty was president of the letter carriers association from 1941 until 1962, and was said to have been an effective lobbyist on Capitol Hill for pay raises.
During that time he also served as a vice president and executive committee member of the AFL-CIO.
He was ambassador to Jamaica from 1962 to 1964, then led a drive to raise money to build a retirement community for letter carriers, NALCREST, near Lake Wales, Fla. He had lived there since the mid-1960s.
A former resident of Bethesda, Mr. Doherty was born in Glendale, Ohio. He began work as a messenger for the Postal Telegraph Co. in Cincinnati when he was 14. He participated in an unsuccessful strike by the Commercial Telegraphers Union of America in 1919, then served three years in the Army.
Mr. Doherty became a letter carrier in Cincinnati in 1923, and at the same time became active in union affairs. He was president of the Cincinnati chapter of the letter carriers association -- and later the Ohio chapter -- before coming to Washington in 1941, after he became president of the national association in a bitterly contested election.
During Mr. Doherty's term as president, membership in the union grew from 67,000 to 155,000, and a health insurance plan that remains in effect today was implemented. In 1960 he wrote a book, "Mailman USA," a history of the union's struggles.
His first wife, Gertrude Helen Dacey Doherty, died in 1967, and his second wife, Oza Howell Barlow Doherty, died in 1983.
Survivors include five sons by his first marriage, William Charles Doherty Jr. of McLean, John Timothy Doherty of Winchester, Va., James Francis Doherty of Silver Spring, and Joseph Patrick Doherty and Thomas Aloysius Doherty, both of Rockville; four daughters by his first marriage, Mary Seton Doherty Puglisi of Gaithersburg, Catherine Ellen Doherty Stewart of McLean, Gertrude Patricia Doherty Boswell of Silver Spring, and Margaret Frances Doherty Rieger of Rockville; 53 grandchildren, and 30 great-grandchildren.