Obituary: Joseph Coors made his brand a household name

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Joseph Coors Sr., the arch conservative who helped expand Adolph Coors Co. from a regional to a national brewer in the 1970s, died March 15 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. of lymphatic cancer. He was 85.

The grandson of founder Adolph Coors, Mr. Coors grew up active in the company's business, working there during school summer vacations before earning a degree in chemical engineering and returning to head its Coors Porcelain Co. division. Company officials credit Mr. Coors with helping to develop the first aluminum beer can. In 1975 he became exec VP of Adolph Coors Co. and in 1977 its president.

His rise came as the regional brewery was developing a national name. During the 1960s, Coors' reputation had grown so strong that a common rite of passage for college men in the Midwest and even the East was a road trip to one of the 11 western states in which Coors was distributed to pick up cases of the beer.

They weren't alone. President Ford returned from a trip to Colorado with cases of Coors in Air Force One and Paul Newman was pictured on the cover of a magazine holding a can. (Mr. Newman swore off the brand in the mid- 1970s due to the company's conservative politics.)

In the '70s and the '80s as the company moved national and Coors Light was introduced, Mr. Coors helped establish its first production facility outside Golden, Colo., in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. "Joe Coors was extraordinarily dedicated to the business he served and he was honored to lead," Coors president-CEO Leo Kiely said in a statement last week.

During his leadership of the brewery Mr. Coors was virulently anti-union and his conservative stances produced various union boycotts in the mid- '70s. He later began turning over management duties to others, among them his son, Peter, who remains chairman, to spend more time pushing conservative causes.


In 1972, it was his $250,000 that helped found the conservative Heritage Foundation, which today remains influential in conservative politics. He was the founder and investor in the Committee for Survival of a Free Congress, another conservative group, and he also supported the arch conservative John Birch Society.

Mr. Coors was also close to President Reagan, serving as a major backer of his early campaign and eventually as part of Mr. Reagan's informal kitchen cabinet. He lobbied for the appointment of James G. Watt as secretary of the interior.

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