William E. Roehl

Union Organizer

William E. Roehl, 82, a retired union organizer who started his own consulting business and who was a patron of the arts, particularly of the Olney Theatre Center, died Nov. 29 at the Mariner Health Care retirement home in Wheaton. He had Parkinson's disease and diabetes. He had been a resident of Silver Spring.

Mr. Roehl joined the AFL-CIO's Washington office in 1974 and retired in 1980 as assistant director for the department of organization and field service. He then was a consultant to, among others, the American Federation of Musicians, which he helped develop a constitution. For 10 years, he was also an adviser to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, helping settle contracts in strike situations.

A supporter of the performing arts, Mr. Roehl financed the orchestra pit at Olney Theatre Center and produced several plays. He was executive producer for the center's Potomac Theater Festival in 2002, and he established the tradition of having an individual sponsor a production. He also supported the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Arena Stage and the Shakespeare Theatre.

Jim Petosa, artistic director of the Olney theater, said Mr. Roehl had a profound belief in the need for a vibrant artistic culture.

"He also believed that artists should have a reasonable quality of life," Petosa said. "During the many years of the development of Olney Theatre Center, Bill was a trusted and generous counselor and a man who could always be trusted to provide clear insight and perspective to the most confounding of challenges."

Mr. Roehl was born in Knoxville, Tenn., and served during World War II in the 8th Air Force as a gunner and radio operator on B-17s for three years in England. He was discharged in 1946 from the occupational forces in Japan.

He attended the University of Tennessee on the GI Bill and became interested in the labor movement. He was an organizer and field representative in the Southern drive for the AFL-CIO before being sent to its Washington headquarters.

His son, John Roehl, died in 1998.

Survivors include his wife, Lillian L. Roehl of Silver Spring.

William E. Roehl was a dedicated patron of the arts.