Monday’s New York Times obituary by Robert McFadden for American beer pioneer William Coors (of the brewing company that carries his name) violated the usual tasteful norms for an obit, starting with the headline and the text box: “William Coors, Ultraconservative Leader Of Brewery Based in Colorado, Dies at 102.” The text box: “A chairman’s speeches were often labeled racist, sexist and homophobic.”
McFadden led off with hostility:
William K. Coors, who led one of America’s biggest beer makers for decades, but whose ultraconservative speeches and anti-union policies incurred boycotts and the wrath of organized labor, civil rights groups and minorities, died on Saturday at his home in Golden, Colo. He was 102.
A grandson of the stowaway from Germany who founded the Adolph Coors Company in the foothills of the Rockies in 1873, Mr. Coors was chairman from 1959 to 2000 and vice chairman until 2002, building a regional brewery into the nation’s third-largest, behind only Anheuser-Busch and Miller.
William Coors, a Princeton-educated chemical engineer whose first job was sweeping company floors, was widely credited with developing the recyclable aluminum can that has become standard for beer and soft drinks. In 1959, long before recycling was common, Coors offered a penny for each can’s return.
Following longstanding family tradition, he kept Coors marketing expenses to a minimum, spending a fraction of what the leading competitors budgeted for advertising. “We don’t need marketing,” Mr. Coors proclaimed in 1975. “We know we make the best beer in the world.”
McFadden stubbornly kept the focus on liberal outrage, not the Ivy League chemical engineer who had an inventive and successful career building the company:
Along with his younger brother, Joseph, a Coors executive who supported Ronald Reagan’s rise to the presidency, William Coors, although not as overtly political, championed bootstrap success and free enterprise, and was widely admired by conservatives.
But he alienated unionists, blacks, Hispanics, women and gays with views and policies that critics called racist, sexist and homophobic, and members of those groups joined informal boycotts of Coors beer in increasing numbers in the 1970s.
Coors brewery workers struck in 1977 over many issues, including the use of lie-detector tests to ferret out employees who were gay or whose politics were considered radical. Workers who crossed picket lines voted the union out. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. declared war, calling for a boycott that lasted 10 years and caused Coors sales and market shares to fall sharply.
At labor’s behest, many black, Hispanic, gay and feminist groups joined the boycott as time went on, adding to its power.
Seven months later, Coors responded to mounting pressure by signing separate agreements with black and Hispanic groups to increase its minority hiring, to develop minority distributors and to invest in banks, law firms, advertising agencies and other businesses in minority communities over five years. One pact, with a coalition that included Operation PUSH and the N.A.A.C.P., pledged up to $325 million; another, with the Hispanic organization La Raza, pledged up to $300 million. Both packages were contingent on increasing Coors sales in minority communities.
McFadden previously got into hot water with a disrespectful obituary of a conservative figure (leftist congressman Ron Dellums encountered no such hostility) earlier in 2018. His treatment of the death of Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon church, garnered impassioned complaints from readers, so much that the paper’s “Reader Center” felt obliged to address them, albeit while downplaying them:
....readers, including many Mormons, wrote that the obituary focused too narrowly on the politics and controversies of the Mormon Church and overlooked Mr. Monson’s contributions to the community.
Obituary editor William McDonald responded in part:
I think the obituary was a faithful accounting of the more prominent issues that Mr. Monson encountered and dealt with publicly during his tenure....In 20/20 hindsight, we might have paid more attention to the high regard with which he was held within the church....