Edward B. Leisenring Jr., 85, prominent coal executive

Edward B.Leisenring Jr.
Edward B.Leisenring Jr.
Posted: March 13, 2011

Edward B. Leisenring Jr., 85, of Berwyn, chief executive of his family's Westmoreland Coal Co. from 1961 to 1988 and a major figure in a 1970s nationwide miners strike, died of heart failure Wednesday, March 2, at his winter home in Aiken, S.C.

In 1995, the firm moved its headquarters from Center City to Colorado Springs, Colo., to be close to its latest major mining operations.

As chairman of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association in 1976-78, Mr. Leisenring "successfully negotiated an end to the longest strike in the history of the United Mine Workers union," said a son, Edward W.

In his 2003 book, In the Kingdom of Coal, Philadelphia author Dan Rottenberg wrote that "not until March 27, 1978, did the miners return to work with a new contact, after 111 days on strike. . . .

"At Westmoreland, Ted Leisenring sought to seize this moment by developing what he called 'an ongoing and intensive communications program' with workers 'to identify emerging problems and to resolve them before they fester and erupt into wildcat strikes.' "

William K. Marimow, former editor of The Inquirer, recalled how, as an Inquirer labor reporter in the 1970s, he was impressed by Mr. Leisenring.

He was "really a tower of wisdom and perspective and expertise in the industry," Marimow said. "As I recall, Ted worked in the mines as a young man and thus had great empathy for the workers and a real understanding of what it meant to work underground.

"Although I only knew him for a year, I found him to be a man of great integrity and fundamental decency."

Incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1854, Westmoreland traces its roots to a company founded in 1835 by Mr. Leisenring's great-grandfather John Leisenring Sr.

The company website states that at its 150th anniversary, Westmoreland was "the 10th-largest coal producer in the U.S., mining over 27 million tons in 2003."

Born in Bryn Mawr, Mr. Leisenring graduated from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., in 1944 and earned a bachelor's degree in English five years later at Yale University, where he was a member of the Fence Club and Book and Snake.

Mr. Leisenring began his career in 1949 as an underground mining machine operator for a Westmoreland entity in southwest Virginia, his son said.

The 1950 newspaper reports of his wedding to Julia du Pont Bissell stated that he worked for the Stonega Coke & Coal Co. in Big Stone Gap, Va., where the couple intended to reside.

In 1961, he became a director of the Southern Railway Co. A 1966 news report stated that he was president of Virginia Coal & Iron, the largest shareholder of Southern. After a merger, he was a director of the resulting Norfolk Southern railroad in 1982.

Mr. Leisenring was chief executive from 1978 to 1988 of Penn Virginia Corp., at the time Westmoreland's landholding firm.

He was chairman of the National Coal Association in 1970-71 "as well as chairman of the first U.S. coal industry mission to the Soviet Union in 1970," his son said.

Apart from his mining interests, his son said, Mr. Leisenring was from 1960 to 1996 a director of Fidelity Bank and from 1966 to 1996 a director of what is now SKF Group, the Swedish manufacturing conglomerate.

He was a vice chairman of Lankenau Hospital, the Philadelphia Contributionship insurance firm, and the Eisenhower Fellowships, an exchange program.

And he was a trustee of Episcopal Academy, which he had attended, and the Hotchkiss School.

Besides his son Edward, Mr. Leisenring is survived by his wife; another son, John; daughter Erica; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service was set for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 19, at Christ Church, Second Street north of Market Street.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

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