It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of former IBEW 1245 Business Rep Rich Cowart at the age of 72. Brother Cowart served on staff at the Local from 2001 until he retired in 2008, representing members in Eureka, Ukiah, Lakeport, Ft. Bragg, NCPA, Shelter Cove and Willits.
Cowart was initiated into the IBEW in 1972, and worked as a troubleman and electric crew foreman for PG&E out of the Concord yard for many years. He was an active shop steward and served on numerous union committees, as well as the union’s Advisory Council. Cowart was also instrumental in the development of the union’s memorial wall, which was first erected in Walnut Creek in 1997.
“Rich was always wiling to volunteer for almost anything the union had going on,” said former Business Manager Jack McNally. “He volunteered for union-sponsored events, picket lines, and demonstrations – including the demonstration in San Francisco on the lay-offs and the CPUC’s restructuring the utilities in California. He was a good man.”
“Rich Cowart was one of those members who always seemed to be around,” recalled former Communications Director Eric Wolfe. “He was really engaged in the mission. He was very soft-spoken, but he was rock solid whenever he talked about the union. I think he was a true believer in the best sense of the word.”
“He was definitively one of the good guys,” added IBEW 1245 Administrative Assistant Karen Kiley.
“Rich broke me in as green shop steward years ago,” said Local 1245 member Jimmy Lozano, who works for the City of Ukiah. “Always confident, told it like was, wouldn’t back down during negotiations and always made himself available for me and the [City of Ukiah Electric Utility] guys.”
“Rich was always there to help with his mental database and numerous local contacts,” said Business Rep JV Macor, who currently represents much of Cowart’s former assignment area. “Rich became my go-to contact for history and knowledge regarding NCPA, Ukiah, Willits and Shelter Cove. My information-gathering sessions were never without eye-opening results and, best of all, no meeting would be without a lineman story or two.”
“Rich’s dedication to helping others in the struggle to gain a better work life extended beyond electrical workers. During the 1990s, Rich took personal time off to assist Local 1245 during the Asplundh strike and the Arbor Tree informational picket line in Auburn,” said Business Rep Landis Marttila. “Rich was a very tough guy but he had a very gentle way of interacting with folks. He had a quiet laugh and was a natural leader. The world should have more people like Rich Cowart.”
When he wasn’t working or volunteering his time with the union, Cowart enjoyed cooking, mixing cocktails and cruising around in his bright red Crown Victoria. Some of his colleagues jokingly nicknamed him “Fire Marshall Bill” because of that unusual, eye-catching car.
Never one to shy away from helping others, Cowart continued to give back in retirement, serving his local community of Cloverdale in a myriad of ways – as a member of the Board of the Cloverdale Senior Center, working with VITA doing tax preparation for low-income individuals, and serving as a founding member of the Cloverdale Democratic Club. He was recently nominated for Sonoma County’s “Jefferson Award” which recognizes local individuals that demonstrate excellence in community leadership and civic engagement.
According to various sources, Cowart was volunteering at his local Senior Center, helping victims of the North Bay firestorm, when he began feeling unwell. He went in to seek medical treatment, and tragically never recovered. He passed away at Healdsburg General Hospital on Oct. 21.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director