READING, PA (December 23, 2019) – It took a while to write this blog post. Several previous attempts are lying in the electronic trash can on my computer.
Paul Roedel died late last month following a long illness. True to form, Paul had told everyone with whom he was close about his exact condition, its progress, and his prognosis. We were all prepared. Nobody was ready.
The impact that Paul had on Berks County during his 92 years can’t be quantified or summed up in a list. Most obviously, his career at Carpenter Technology Corporation, which was capped by a tenure as CEO, helped build one of our region’s biggest employers.
I first met Paul after he retired from Carpenter. Berks County Community Foundation was created by the Wyomissing Foundation, where Paul Roedel was president. So he’s one of the first people I met when I started here and, for a time, he and I worked together in the conference room of the Wyomissing Foundation office, sharing a table as a desk.
I knew Paul was retired, but I don’t think he really understood what that meant. Until his illness made it impossible, Paul worked as many hours as I ever did in the community each week. Listing all of the organizations with which he worked would be pure folly. Maybe he kept track somewhere, but I doubt it.
Some community volunteers are show horses, some are workhorses. Paul was a workhorse. At any given time, he probably had half a dozen organizations under his wing. Some, like the Wyomissing Foundation, he ran. Others, like the Reading School District, were objects of his deep dive into their troubled finances, out of which emerged a set of recommendations to move toward financial recovery.
That financial analysis was what he loved best, as Paul needed to thoroughly understand the finances to figure out how to improve the organization. And when I say thoroughly, I mean completely. Paul would even say: “I’m going to go diving into the weeds.” His ability to understand financial detail was unrivaled. I used to tease Paul that he “audited organizations back to health.”
The truth is that we did not hit it off at first. Paul thought I was too aggressive and impulsive. I was frustrated by Paul’s deliberate, thorough, and, to my mind, too-slow approach to dealing with organizations. He generally avoided publicity and I came from a career in public relations.
It didn’t take all that long for us to realize that we actually worked well together and we joked often about our different approaches. I could tell when Paul had decided it was time to be a little more aggressive with an organization. He’d always start those discussions with: “Well, Murphy… maybe we should try your way.”
Sometimes, he worked with organizations that were starting up. Sometimes, the organizations were in financial or organizational distress. Whatever the reason for their situation, Paul was thoughtful and almost always right. A consummate gentleman, he could deliver bad news in the most nonjudgmental way imaginable. He was unfailingly professional in his bearing.
Personally, he was a kind man who didn’t seek and didn’t enjoy the spotlight. There was nothing flashy about Paul. He moved quietly through the community and preferred to work behind the scenes, letting others take credit for success. In professional settings, he often appeared reserved as he had never managed to fall in love with the sound of his own voice. Privately, his powerful intellect was reflected in a wicked sense of humor that was occasionally helped along by an affection for an afternoon martini.
It was not Paul’s nature to brag (and he didn’t think much of others who did)… except when it came to his daughters, Beth James and Meg Mueller.
He was incredibly proud of them and their families and would sometimes start talking about them by saying: “Now, Murphy, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging…”
As much as our community lost an icon, Meg, Beth and Paul’s wife Frances lost a great man, a great father, and a great husband.
I’m proud to say he was not only my colleague and mentor, but also a dear friend as well. Few like him will pass this way.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation