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Longtime Finch Paper Chairman Richard J. Carota dies at 73

Press release from the issuing company

Glens Falls, NY - Richard J. Carota, the one-time union laborer who rose to become Paper Industry Executive of the Year as chairman, president and chief executive officer of Glens Falls, NY-based Finch, Pruyn & Co., Inc., and its successor, Finch Paper LLC, passed away on Saturday, July 10, 2010, at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, NY. He was 73 years old, and had determinedly fought an illness that began in September 2009.

Mr. Carota retired from Finch on February 2, 2009, after 53 years of service, 26 of which were served as the company's chairman, president and CEO. He was the first person who was not a member of the founding families of Finch, Pruyn to be elected chairman, president and CEO of the now-145-year-old company. He was also one of the few former labor union officers to become the CEO of a major American paper manufacturer.

In 1993, Mr. Carota was honored as the Paper Industry Executive of the Year by the Paper Industry Management Association. At the time, he told hundreds of industry executives gathered in his honor in San Diego, "I've never considered myself the only idea person at Finch, Pruyn. I've had more responsibility than other people, but I've believed the only way we could succeed was if we pooled everyone's ideas. Teamwork has helped us accomplish some great things."

Mr. Carota's leadership was widely credited for keeping the Finch mill operating during the late 1990s and early 2000s as dozens of other American paper mills were forced to close due to troublesome economic conditions. Among his most significant career accomplishments at Finch, Mr. Carota: expanded the company's market presence and product mix, developing a nationwide network of Finch Paper merchants; spearheaded the company's entrance into the premium text and cover paper market, with the introductions of the Finch Fine and Finch Premium Blend products; and championed Finch's receipt of the coveted Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) green certifications for the company's forestry practices and its products. He also oversaw a $20-million modernization of the company's largest and most productive paper machine; the development of a $25-million cogeneration plant that has made the company largely energy-independent; and the company's $10-million conversion to an elemental chlorine-free pulp bleaching process to protect the environment.

In 2007, Mr. Carota guided Finch Pruyn & Co., Inc., through the sale of the business by its local owners to the partnership of Atlas Holdings LLC and Blue Wolf Capital Management LLC.

Born on June 5, 1937, at Glens Falls Hospital, Mr. Carota was the eldest of three children of Gladys and Patrick Carota of Hudson Falls, NY. He graduated from Hudson Falls Senior High School in 1954 at the age of 17, and in 1955 entered Miami University in Coral Gables, Fla., as a pre-med student.

In the Spring of 1956, following his freshman year at Miami, Mr. Carota's paper industry career began almost accidentally. While home for the summer, he took a temporary job as a laborer at Finch, Pruyn, earning $1.35 an hour sweeping out rail cars that were used to ship paper from the mill. When he returned to the University of Miami in the fall of 1956 for his sophomore year, he was unable to find part-time work to help pay his tuition, and his family lacked the resources for him to continue his studies. He came home and returned to work at Finch, Pruyn.

Shortly after rejoining the company as a full-time employee in 1956, Mr. Carota was elected secretary-treasurer of Local 20 of the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulfite and Paper Mill Workers, a union representing hundreds of Finch, Pruyn employees.

In 1958, Mr. Carota left the hourly union ranks and began to earn a steady series of promotions into management. He held positions in the company's Quality Control, Paper Production, Mill Scheduling and Customer Service departments. As customer service manager for 10 years, Mr. Carota traveled widely to meet with Finch, Pruyn's customers, many of whom became lifelong friends.

In 1970, at age 32, he became one of the youngest paper mill plant managers in the United States. In this capacity, he oversaw the implementation of Finch, Pruyn's innovative ammonium bisulfite pulping process. Most American paper mills use a kraft pulping process, but Finch, Pruyn's owners, sensitive to the mill's proximity to homes and businesses in Downtown Glens Falls, chose sulfite in the late 1960s to avoid the unpleasant odors often associated with kraft mills. Finch, Pruyn turned to its corporate neighbor, Kamyr Inc., to develop a one-of-a-kind continuous digesting process in which both hardwoods and softwoods would be pulped together. The goal was to provide pulp for high-strength, high-brightness premium papers, but the innovative process was plagued with serious operational problems. Months went by without the sulfite process actually producing pulp suitable for making paper.

In 1972, then-Finch, Pruyn Chairman, President and CEO Lyman Beeman selected Mr. Carota to go the pulp mill and straighten out the problems for good. Mr. Carota worked more than 300 days there without a day off to get the new process to run properly. He succeeded, and the high-quality pulp the mill produced was pivotal to the company's future success, earning Mr. Carota a promotion to vice president of manufacturing, a position he held from 1974-1982.

In 1979, he was elected to the Finch, Pruyn Board of Directors and, in 1980, was named executive vice president. He was elected president in 1982, and chairman and CEO in 1983.

Mr. Carota had a long and colorful history with the seven unions that represent Finch, employees. As an hourly worker and union officer, he served on the union negotiating committee that bargained with company leaders for labor agreements in 1956 and 1958. Later, as a senior manager at the mill, he led the Company's negotiating team, working out 20 labor agreements with the unions over a span of 40 years. He took particular pride in leading the development of a line of lucrative premium papers that allowed the company to negotiate contracts that provided local workers with some of the highest wages and benefits in the U.S. paper industry.

When demand for paper began dropping in the late 1990s and the industry went into a long recession in which more than a dozen U.S. paper mills closed, Mr. Carota led the company in seeking necessary economic concessions from the unions. Strikes resulted, but new contracts were eventually reached that helped keep Finch, Pruyn competitive.

Mr. Carota was a member of the Paper Industry Management Association for more than 30 years, and served as a member of the Association's Leadership Council. He was also a sustaining member of the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry, and a member of the National Rifle Association.

In November 2005, he was honored with a place on the Hudson Falls Central School District Wall of Distinction, which recognizes district graduates who have gone on to distinguished careers or who have become role models in their community.

When he was not working, which was not often, Mr. Carota enjoyed spending time with his longtime companion, Nancy Sawyer, his children and his grandchildren. He loved to garden at his home in Moreau and to fish with his sons on Lake George from a boat that he named, with characteristic humor, the RJ Sea (a play on his initials). He was an avid consumer of stock market and political news and a Civil War buff.  

Mr. Carota is survived by his children: Timothy Carota and his wife, Kimm, of Moreau; Christopher Carota and his companion, Lynn Allen, of Moreau; and Michael Carota of Albany. He is also survived by his longtime companion, Nancy Sawyer of Moreau; grandchildren: Taylor Carota, Kasey Carota, Nicole Carota and Brittany Goodro; his brother, Robert Carota and his wife, Sally, of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina; several nieces and nephews; and Gail Carota of South Glens Falls, his former wife and the mother of his children.

He was pre-deceased by his parents, Gladys and Patrick Carota; and his sister, Ann.

The family suggests that donations in Mr. Carota's memory be made to the Glens Falls Hospital Foundation, 126 South St., Glens Falls, NY 12801-9465.

Calling hours will be held from 1-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13, at Carleton Funeral Home in Hudson Falls. Graveside services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 14, in Union Cemetery in Fort Edward.