Truth is on the side of the best leaders

When I was a roof bolter at Youghiogheny and Ohio Coal Company (Y & 0) near Powhatan, Ohio in 1976, I found myself dressing beside an older man named Karl Kaftan. Karl was a very friendly guy who talked more than I, which takes some doing.

Soon, he began telling me his fascinating life story. Karl was a union executive board member who opposed the infamous president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Tony Boyle. When I knew Karl, he was working as a scoop car man. The stories he told amazed me to the point of disbelief. Occasionally, Karl would miss a few days of work and when he returned had reports of appearances he made in federal court. Piece by piece the whole story emerged.

Karl was good friends with Jock Yablonski who also challenged Tony Boyle. Jock ran for president of the UMWA in 1969 against Boyle and was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin. A little over a week later Jock, his wife, and daughter were murdered in Clarksville, Pennsylvania about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. (Time, September 17, 1973)

Karl was with Jock a few days before his death when the gunmen appeared at the door of Jock’s home. They claimed to be looking for work but left in a hurry. Jock took down the license plate number and it was traced to a woman in Cleveland. Karl called the woman posing as a policeman and wrote down her name and number on the same pad as the license plate number (The New York Times, February 1, 1987).

The information on the pad of paper, seen by some as critical evidence along with fingerprints found in the house the night of the murder, led to the conviction or confession of the three gunmen, four other men, and Tony Boyle himself in 1974.

Karl later tried to claim the $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murders, but lost his case in the US Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit.

Karl put his life at risk by joining the rebel Yablonski and fought hard to put his murderers behind bars. Karl left Y & O after a few months and I don’t know what happened to him. But I have never forgotten the stories of this unassuming man in his 60s. Some people made fun of Karl because he talked so much and many didn’t believe his stories but I admired him. He was a leader of the union and a leader who did the right thing when his good friend was killed. Although the best leaders may be afraid when threatened, they find a way to seek the truth.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.