Obituary: Robert S. Azen / Labor activist had a passion for 1950s culture, collectibles

June 10, 1944 - May 12, 2014

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Robert Azen loved his 1950s Oldsmobile and the music that went with it.

After Mr. Azen, known as both "Bob" and "Max" to his friends and family, retired from H.J. Heinz Co., the Shaler resident became a passionate member of oldies music clubs and car clubs, including the Rodfathers of Butler Car Club and the Allegheny Rockets Oldsmobile Club. He restored a 1950s Oldsmobile that he took to car conventions.

In the 1990s, he was a member of the Pittsburgh Old Record Collectors Club that hosted classic rhythm and blues performers and held oldies dances in the area. The group, PORCC, was named in honor of legendary Pittsburgh D.J. George "Porky" Chedwick.

"That passion followed him. He had Sirius radio in his car, and it was always tuned to the 1950s station," said his longtime partner Lorraine Kobert, also of Shaler.

Mr. Azen died of cancer Monday at West Penn hospice. He was 69.

He and Ms. Kobert met at a dance club about 25 years ago. While she was waiting for a friend, he approached her and asked her to dance.

"He circled around, and next thing I know he's bringing his friend over to meet me," Ms. Kobert said. "It turns out that his friend was my older brother's best friend. When I saw him with my brother's friend, I thought it was OK to dance with this guy. It was like a little confirmation."

They continued to share their love of dancing and music. They were active participants in the Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club and cut a rug at oldies dances in Pittsburgh and beyond -- traveling to Mexico, the Caribbean and Ireland with friends.

"We met through the venue of music," Ms. Kobert said. "He taught me about the music, and it's so easy to fall in love with that stuff."

Mr. Azen was a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. Active in labor causes through his work at the Heinz plant on the North Side, he was vice president on the Allegheny Labor Council, on the board of the Union Label and Trades Council for the AFL/CIO, and a lifetime member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 325/23."Bob rarely missed a meeting," said Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny Labor Council in Pittsburgh. "In addition, he was our union label guy and was good at encouraging people to buy union made, American made. If it ain't union made, at least make sure it's American made.

"He did it in a way that never upset anyone. He'd provide lists around the holidays of where people could buy union-made candy and toys. That was Bobby. We would depend on him.

"He was a great guy, great partner and served this labor council well. We're sorry he's gone, but while he was here, he did the Lord's work."

Mr. Azen was serious about his political action as well, serving on the Shaler Democratic Committee, Mr. Shea noted. "He worked every election day at the polls."

In addition to Ms. Kobert, Mr. Azen is survived by his sons, Robert Azen Jr. of Bellevue, Steven Azen of Moon and Shawn Azen of Coraopolis; Ms. Kobert's sons, Albert Kobert III of Shaler and Terry Kobert of Abingdon, Maryland; his sisters, Catherine Makay of Zelienople and Penny Hammack of Charlotte, North Carolina; and his stepbrothers and stepsister, Albert Azen, Martin Azen and Marlene, all of Troy Hill.


Stephanie Ritenbaugh: sritenbaugh@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910.

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