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Former city councilman,
3M manager dead at 89

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

The thunder heard Friday afternoon may have been the sound of Phil Raths dancing with his wife, Mickee, in heaven, the couple's children suggested.

The 89-year-old former Decatur city councilman and 3M plant manager died at Decatur General Hospital at 11 a.m.

Lucy Raths Scrimsher, 47, said her father's health spiraled quickly after he was admitted to the hospital with a nosebleed Thursday morning, but that "he went peacefully and he had some of his children around him."

Schrimsher said that as he closed his eyes, family members told him it was all right to go, that their mother was waiting to dance with him on the other side.

In the evening, Dennis Raths, 56, took the celestial booms as confirmation their father was now cutting a rug with his beloved redhead.

Phil Raths, who grew up on a ranch in Roundup, Mont., went from learning in a one-room schoolhouse to studying at St. John's Prep School and later St. John's University in Minnesota.

That's where he met Dayla "Mickee" Doty while on a blind date with another woman. It was a double date, and the cab they were sharing was too cramped.

"Mom had to sit on Dad's lap so she didn't have the awkward position of sitting on her date's lap," Schrimsher chuckled.

"After that, they were inseparable," Dennis Raths said.

The couple gave birth to 10 children, including seven sons and three daughters. Seven survive today, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I don't think besides Mr. (John) Caddell you could find a man who brought more industry into Decatur," Dennis Raths said.

Jerry Paulson, 84, came to Decatur in 1960 as office personnel manager for the new 3M plant. Raths came in at the same time from a sulfuric acid plant in Copley, Ohio.

"Phil and I were the original crew when they opened the plant here," Paulson said. "Phil was a great boss. Everybody loved Phil. Just this week, I ran into a couple of fellows and they were asking me how Mr. Rath was, and they both commented that he was certainly a great plant manager. We all really liked him. That was a great compliment after all these years."

"Phil was very active in the community, even after retiring. And he was very encouraging of the other supervisors at the plant to be active in city affairs," said Paulson, who chaired the city personnel board.

The front page of the Aug 1, 1984, edition of the Decatur Daily showed a picture of Phil and Mickee Raths embracing and celebrating his victory for the City Council seat with a kiss.

The reporter joked that it was hard to tell who was more excited, Raths or his wife, who could stop answering the phone with "Raths for council."

Former Councilman Tommy Counts, 78, said that during his four-year term, Raths helped do away with the blue law, pushed annexation in Limestone County and was instrumental in Decatur's growth.

"He was a very fine man who had a good business head on him. He loved the city and worked for its improvement and looked at things both on a financial and social basis, and I had a great deal of respect for him," Counts said.

Raths went on to chair the Chamber of Commerce and the Decatur Country Club, and he created and directed the Dectaur Business Incubator.

Despite Raths' extensive involvement in the growth and industrialization of Decatur, Scrimsher said the thing about him stands out most in her mind was his devotion to his wife and children.

"He worshipped the ground my mother walked on. He thought so much of her for what she had gone through having children," Scrimsher said. "He was very family-oriented."

She remembers her father's hands bleeding after he built wooden scoreboards for a swim and dive team the children participated in at Point Mallard.

She remembers the sandbox he built for her, filled with sand collected from Bankhead National Forest, where the family went on excursions nearly every summer Sunday.

She remembers her father bringing her two pet cats because he couldn't choose one to take home, starting a Christmas Eve tradition of cooking burnt pizza and cherry pie for her brother's Dec. 24 birthday, and filling out Charlie Brown-style Christmas trees by drilling holes in the trunk and inserting extra branches.

"My father built us a log cabin in the backyard," Scrimsher said. "It had a dirt floor and just little holes cut out for the windows."

Dennis Raths recalled the cabin's construction from landscaping timbers.

"That log cabin ... It was an engineering disaster, but it existed for decades," he said. "It finally rotted down, thank God, before y'all (The Decatur Daily) started taking pictures of things."

Raths said his father's strengths lay not in carpentry but in business and civic duty.

In 1989, Mickee Raths died at age 69.

"I made the mistake of telling them her age when the paper called, and Daddy said the next day, 'Who told them she was 69? You know she's always been 29!' " Schrimsher said.

Schrimsher said she was thankful to have had so many years with her father.

"He led a lot of people and set a lot of examples, and he had a lot of people, from all walks of life in his life, that will miss him dearly," she said.

But, said Dennis Raths, his father is in good company.

"Right now," Raths said, "he's with his best friends, God and his wife."

Raths' children said he remained a devout Catholic all his life. Had the love of his life not been forced into his lap in a cramped cab in Minnesota, he might well have gone on to become a priest, Schrimsher said.

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be sent to Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church's Building Fund or another charity of the giver's choice.

Brown's Funeral Home will announce funeral arrangements.

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