Jack Coogan, patriarch of a longtime Juneau construction family, died Tuesday at Bartlett Regional Hospital after suffering a work-site heart attack, his family said.
Coogan was 81. He founded Skyline Builders in 1969 and Coogan Construction in 1979, his family said. He was born in Ireland in 1923 and apprenticed in his father's construction business, also called Coogan Construction.
The Juneau firm built Riverbend Elementary, the Thorne Bay school and the Juneau International Airport terminal, and recently renovated Juneau-Douglas High School, among other projects.
"He started his career in 1937," said Wayne Coogan, one of three sons. "To 2004. Sixty-seven years of career."
Coogan became ill Tuesday as the company was setting up a crane. He was retired but kept a hand in by troubleshooting and even installing door hardware at jobs. Grandson Chad Thomas, 20, was operating a crane for the first time.
"That was a big deal, to see his grandson actually operating it," said Vera Thomas, Chad's mother and Jack's daughter.
On Wednesday morning, at a ceremony for workers, Chad operated the crane as family members and friends hoisted an Irish flag with the Coogan crest on the crane's tip. A friend bought the flag at a store in Indiana. Son Gene Coogan had planned to give it to his father for Christmas.
Family members and friends described Coogan as hard-working, compassionate, honest and knowledgeable.
"He was a really gentle man. And he was intelligent. He had craftsmanship beyond the technology of today. You don't build doors from scratch anymore like he did. Or build bricks from scratch. I think Juneau lost some color yesterday," Gene Coogan said Wednesday.
"He was not what you would call a briefcase contractor," Wayne Coogan said. "He was a working man's contractor. He worked with both his mind and his hands, so he had a particular affinity for guys on the job."
After Coogan retired, "he went back to work as a carpenter on the job because that's where he felt the best. He identified with the guys."
Jack Coogan traveled extensively as a young man, working in England, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. He met his wife, Anne, now deceased, in San Francisco, where they lived for a time.
Anne and their first two boys reunited in Sitka with Coogan, who was helping to build the pulp mill in the 1950s. They took an amphibious plane to Sitka, but Anne didn't realize it was amphibious, Gene Coogan said.
"They plopped down belly-first in Sitka and she thought this was the end," Gene Coogan recalled.
Joe Winders, a contractor who has known Coogan for 40 years, said he was one of the most compassionate and knowledgeable people he has met.
"My God, what a great man he was," Winders said. Coogan was well known in the construction industry and the Irish community in Alaska. "There wasn't a person who would say a bad word about Jack."
Coogan was an avid birdwatcher. Winders said Coogan once spent several nights creeping around the tidal flats near his Glacier Highway home to try to find out where geese slept at night, "just to know."
Coogan as a boy wondered if he could grow tobacco, and he did. "Just very inventive," Winders said.
"He had a gentle spirit," Vera Thomas said. "You know how you picture an Irishman with a glint in his eye? That was him. He was always happy. He was always telling stories."
"They were true stories, too," Gene Coogan said.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 15 at St. Paul's Catholic Church.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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