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For three decades, John Carmichael, who led the union that represents journalists at Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers, helped bring superior pay and benefits to his constituents, to the envy of other journalists across the nation.

Carmichael, 85, of Minneapolis, a former reporter who was executive officer of the Twin Cities Newspaper Guild from 1955 to 1986, died April 19 in Minneapolis. (The Newspaper Guild has since merged with the Communication Workers of America, and Carmichael's former local has been renumbered Local 37002.)

"He was a formidable figure," said Marilynn Taylor, a former Minneapolis Star editor and former guild leader. "He made this one of the top local news guilds in the nation," she said, adding that he also had the respect of managers he sat across the table from during negotiations.

One of those managers, John Dennison, former vice president of labor relations for the newspaper, said that even in the heat of contract negotiations, he and Carmichael never spoke in anger.

"When he gave you his word, he meant it," Dennison said.

Carmichael grew up in Longview, Texas, and went to Baylor University in Waco, where he studied journalism.

After serving as a surgical assistant in the Army during World War II, he worked as a reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in post-war Japan.

After the war, he was a reporter in Dallas, and later in New Orleans, covering labor issues. In 1955, Twin Cities journalists hired him to run their Guild local.

In that role, he built some of the best contracts in the industry, weathering strikes and mergers, Taylor wrote in the mid-1980s in a Guild newspaper.

Maureen McCarthy, a Star Tribune editor and former president of the Newspaper Guild Local, said he was most proud of being a pioneer in worker participation programs, which allow union and management to get things done without formal bargaining and help avoid expensive, stressful grievances.

In formal negotiations, he was "strategic" and "wise" as he strove for a settlement, she said.

When dealing with union members, "he knew how to reassure people and challenge people," McCarthy said. "He was wonderfully skilled at that."

Carmichael was no orator, but his careful speech with an East Texas drawl got the job done, said Chuck Laszewski, a former Pioneer Press reporter and a former union leader in the guild's St. Paul unit.

"He was a very low-key, relaxed kind of guy whose tactic, I think, was to talk them to death, with that very slow, deliberate delivery," Laszewski said. "It was essentially his style, and it did seem to be effective."

And he was a gentleman, Laszewski added. "I never saw him lose his cool."

He was a mentor for many union activists, encouraging them to attend Harvard University's trade union program, where he himself studied, and later was a guest speaker several times.

After retirement, he continued to teach labor relations and collective bargaining at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He also served on a city of Minneapolis labor-management council.

In the 1960s, Carmichael served on the board of the Minneapolis NAACP.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Mary Lou; two sons, David and Patrick Sean, both of Minneapolis; two sisters, Ruth Robertson of Monroe, La., and Mary Ann Works of Longview, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Lakewood Cemetery Chapel, 3600 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis.