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Coghlin earns top T&G Visions honor; Company chairman has ability to make things happen.

Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker

WORCESTER - James W. Coghlin Sr.'s business card from Coghlin Companies Inc. identifies him, in part, as "coach." As a freckle-faced boy, he earned the playful nickname "Huck" from his siblings. But at a restaurant recently for lunch, the businessman became something else for a stranger: a possible job connection.

"A young waitress was serving us and all of a sudden she said to us she was waitressing on a temporary basis because she actually had a degree in nursing and was not able to get a job," said Paul R. Brown, president and chief executive of Leadership Dynamics Inc. and, on that day, Mr. Coghlin's lunch partner. "Jim took his business card out of his wallet and gave it to her. She said, `What do you do?' He said, `I help young women get jobs in nursing.' She said, `Really?' And he said, `Well, not always, but that's what I'm going to do for you.'"

It was, Mr. Brown said, an example of Mr. Coghlin's style, a chance offer to place a job seeker's resume in the right hands and extend a "hand up, rather than a handout."

There are other, more public examples of Mr. Coghlin's community service, and in recognition of his contributions to society, Mr. Coghlin has been named the 2008 recipient of the Telegram & Gazette's Isaiah Thomas Citizen of the Year Award. He and five other winners of the T&G's Visions Awards will be honored at 4 p.m. Feb. 26 in

Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester.

The other winners are:

Public Service Award - Josefina Velez, director of social services at Friendly House in Worcester.

Young Leader Award - Laura M. Suroviak, a community organizer and activist in Worcester.

Cultural Enrichment Award - Edward P. Madaus and Paul J. Demoga, founders of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Academic Achievement Award - Rachel S. Ravina, a Leicester High graduate now at Smith College.

Mr. Coghlin, 64, a Shrewsbury resident and chairman of Coghlin Companies, oversees a privately held group of manufacturing and engineering businesses acquired by his grandfather in 1897 and employing 180 people. His "room" at Coghlin Companies, a glass-walled space that eschews standard office furniture for a large round table and stuffed armchairs, features pictures of family, and the business is a family affair. Two of Mr. Coghlin's four children are executives. His elder brother, Edwin B. Coghlin Jr., is treasurer.

Community service is also a family tradition. Mr. Coghlin's father, Edwin B. Coghlin, won the Isaiah Thomas Award in 1963, and his brother, Edwin B. Coghlin Jr., known for his advocacy for Worcester Technical High School, received the honor in 2004.

"I think we got a broad exposure to a cross-section of the area community and the cross-section of situations that people are faced with," Edwin B. Coghlin Jr. said of the brothers' childhood. Now, he said of the brother he calls Jimmy, "he works at his business long hours and he works at his community activities long hours."

Those activities include serving on a number of boards, including Nichols College, where Mr. Coghlin graduated in 1967, and the travel company Tauck Inc. of Norwalk, Conn. He has been chairman of the Humanitarian Society of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, and he co-founded and was liaison of the Young Presidents' Organization's Western New England Chapter. Industry honors include the National Association of Electrical Distributors Distinguished Service Award.

Mr. Coghlin, who said he believes "the joy is in the giving," marks another connection to the Isaiah Thomas Award and one that figures strongly in his focus on health, education and human services. His friend, the late Mark R. Ungerer, who was an executive at FLEXCon Corp. in Spencer, was the 1991 Isaiah Thomas Award winner. Mr. Ungerer battled cancer until his death in 1995, and Mr. Coghlin has championed efforts to raise money for cancer research and awareness.

Mr. Coghlin serves as co-chairman of the annual Mark R. Ungerer Memorial Golf Tournament, benefiting the Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Last year, the event at The International in Bolton raised $550,000.

In recent years, Mr. Coghlin also raised $1.5 million for the Mark R. Ungerer Endowed Fellowship to support the adolescent and young adult cancer research program at Dana-Farber. He has raised about $650,000 for a second entity, Closing the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) Gap, which provides support for young people with cancer. He has begun raising money for a third entity, the 15-40 Connection Inc., a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness of the fact that survival rates for people between 15 and 40 who are diagnosed with cancer have not improved in the last 20 years, Mr. Coghlin said.

"One of my passions is to make that statistic history, through just creating awareness that it exists," Mr. Coghlin said. "If people would just go to a doctor once a year and get a checkup, that statistic will improve."

Dr. Karen H. Albritton, director of adolescent and young adult oncology at Dana-Farber, said Mr. Coghlin stands out as a donor because of the connections he shares.

"If you could have a champion in your court, I'd much rather have someone who has this limitless energy to spread the word rather that what is, inevitably, a limited amount of money," Dr. Albritton said. "His giving goes on and on and on."

Sometimes Mr. Coghlin's efforts have been less public. Matthew A. Brunell, president of The Nativity School of Worcester, a private Jesuit middle school for boys from poor families, said that on his first day at the school in 2007, Mr. Coghlin's assistant called and announced that Mr. Coghlin wanted to donate 30 iPods to the school, enough for its entire music program.

More recently, Mr. Coghlin sponsored a performance by teen pianist Mackenzie Melemed, whose appearance inspired some of the students to later say, "they want to find their talents in life, just the way Mackenzie did," Mr. Brunell said.

Mr. Brown, of Leadership Dynamics, said his business brings him into contact with high-performance people.

"But one of the things that I have come to realize is that there's a difference between successful and significant, and Jim Coghlin is a person who's significant," he said.

The Telegram & Gazette's Visions Awards program is free and open to the public. Seating is limited; to register to attend by Feb. 20, call (508) 793-9332 or e-mail Katy Donahue at


CUTLINE: (1) James W. Coghlin Sr., chairman and coach of Coghlin Companies Inc., is the 2008 recipient of the Isaiah Thomas Award, which honors an outstanding citizen who has volunteered his or her time and abilities to improve the quality of life in the Worcester area. (2) Rachel S. Ravina (3) James W. Coghlin Sr. (4) Edward P. Madaus and Paul J. Demoga (5) Josefina Velez (6) Laura M. Suroviak

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 8, 2009
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