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Former McMurray man's research made coal mining safer

Stephen Huba
| Friday, July 6, 2018, 11:09 a.m.
Austin R. Cooper Sr. of Greensburg, formerly of McMurray, died Tuesday, July 3, 2018, at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. He was 97.
Austin R. Cooper Sr. of Greensburg, formerly of McMurray, died Tuesday, July 3, 2018, at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. He was 97.

Austin Cooper's work for the U.S. Bureau of Mines helped make coal mining safer for miners in Western Pennsylvania and around the world.

Mr. Cooper worked as a physical scientist with the now-defunct agency at a time when it operated an experimental mine in South Park, where he conducted controlled experiments on the combustibility of coal dust.

“My dad did help make the mines safer,” said his son, Peter. “The research they did changed the coal industry for the men.”

Mr. Cooper worked with other scientists overseas and co-authored books on mine safety with scientists from other countries, he said.

Austin R. Cooper Sr. of Greensburg, formerly of McMurray, died Tuesday, July 3, 2018, at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. He was 97.

Born on Aug. 18, 1920, in Washington, Pa., he was a son of the late Roman Cooper and Esther (Johnston) Cooper. He graduated from East Washington High School and attended Knoxville College in Tennessee.

Following his service in the Navy, he went to work for the Bureau of Mines. He did research at the Pittsburgh experimental mine into the explosive properties of dust, hydraulic fluid and other mining products, Peter Cooper said.

“He took us there as kids and would show us how even common household products, under the right conditions, can be explosive,” he said.

Mr. Cooper testified as an expert witness in several trials, including one involving a woman who was burned while heating Carnation Milk on a stovetop, he said.

He retired in 1984 after 40 years with the bureau, which closed in 1996.

Mr. Cooper also was a devout Jehovah's Witness who converted as a young man and stayed active in the Greensburg Kingdom Hall until his death.

In 1963, he went on the Jehovah's Witnesses Round-the-World Assembly — a traveling convention that started in Milwaukee, Wis., and visited about 18 countries before returning to the United States.

“The focus was to show the international brotherhood (of the Jehovah's Witnesses). They welcomed these delegates from all over the world. The purpose was to build unity and to show how Jehovah's Witnesses teaching was the same,” he said.

Mr. Cooper met his wife, Maureen, of Edinburgh, Scotland, while attending a Jehovah's Witnesses convention at Wembley Stadium in London.

“They corresponded, and she came to America,” his son said.

Mr. Cooper was preceded in death by a brother and three sisters.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Maureen H. (Christie) Cooper; four sons, Austin Cooper Jr. and his wife, Valerie, of Greensburg, James Cooper and his wife, Beth, of Irwin, Jonathan M. Cooper, of Greensburg, and Peter Cooper and his wife, Debra, of Jeannette; 12 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; a sister; and a brother.

Friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at William G. Neal Funeral Homes, Ltd., 925 Allison Ave., Washington.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1113 Middletown Road, Greensburg.

At the request of the deceased, burial in Washington Cemetery will be private and held at the convenience of the family.

Memorial contributions may be made to jw.org .

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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