Former coal executive Stonie Barker Jr. dies

Coal industry executive Stonie Barker.

Photo courtesy Milward Funeral Directors
Coal industry executive Stonie Barker. Photo courtesy Milward Funeral Directors Photo courtesy Milward Funeral Directors

Stonie Barker Jr., a high-ranking coal executive in Lexington during the 1970s and '80s, died Tuesday at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 85.

Born in Chapmanville, W.Va., Mr. Barker worked his way up through the mining industry and eventually led Island Creek Coal Co., one of the largest coal companies in the United States at the time.

One of 11 children of a miner and farmer, Mr. Barker spent his college summers digging coal at an Island Creek mine to help pay his school expenses. In 1951, after receiving a mining engineering degree from Virginia Tech, he entered Island Creek's management training program.

After holding a series of engineering and management positions, he was named president and later chief executive of Island Creek during the early 1970s.

Several years after Mr. Barker took over, industry and union officials credited him with helping to end a violent 109-day strike by the United Mine Workers.

"During his tenure, labor relations were much more intense," said Bill Caylor, a past president of the Kentucky Coal Association. "United Mine Workers routinely went on strike, but he helped guide the industry through some of those difficult times."

Mike Musulin, another past president of the coal association who worked for Mr. Barker at Island Creek Coal, said the executive knew how to relate to workers.

"His background, his knowledge of the industry and having worked underground and come up through the ranks contributed to his ability to help solve whatever conflicts there were," Musulin said.

Mr. Barker described his bargaining strategy to the Herald-Leader in the 1980s. "I've never tried to play games or make people believe that I'm something I'm not," he said. "When you come across to people like that, they listen to you.

"I can always look back on that with a degree of satisfaction."

Musulin said that Mr. Barker's everyman style was evident in how he ran Island Creek.

"When I first started at Island Creek, I had a cubicle in the hallway, and more often than not, if he needed something, he wouldn't have his secretary buzz and have you come down and see him," Musulin said. "He would walk down the hall and come to you. He was a very down-to-earth person."

During his more than 30-year career with Island Creek, Mr. Barker also was chairman of the National Coal Association and Bituminous Coal Operators' Association.

He retired in 1984 from Island Creek, which was on Harrodsburg Road on the property that is now Sullivan University. Mr. Barker remained active in the industry after his retirement from the company, which was sold off in pieces about a decade later by owner Occidental Petroleum. He served on a number of industry boards and was involved in several small companies.

Mr. Barker is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and children Elizabeth Barker of Cleveland and Beverly Baldwin of Lexington. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Eunice Wilson Barker, who died in 1998, and son David Barker, who died in 1966.

Visitation will be 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Milward Funeral Directors, 1509 Trent Boulevard. Services and burial will be Saturday in Chapmanville, W.Va.

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