Former construction executive Richard "Dick" Haas, who helped boost the industry's open-shop sector during a long tenure as chief spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors, died on April 4 in Gaithersburg, Md., after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. He was 81.

Haas had a nearly three-decade career at ABC, retiring in 2001 as vice president of public affairs for the group, which has an estimated 21,000 contractor and related firm members.

He previously served in the U.S. Army for two years and was an executive at the Associated General Contractors of America. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1962.

William Krizan, a former managing editor of Engineering News-Record who knew and worked with Haas for more than 30 years, calls him “one of the greatest communications people in the industry.”

He says Haas was instrumental in helping establish and elevate the status of nonunion firms, which ABC termed "merit shops," as an alternative for project owners. His nearly three decades heading ABC’s public affairs group coincided with tremendous change in the construction industry, Krizan says.

“Prior to this time, major projects were almost the exclusive domain of union-only construction firms," Krizan notes. "This merit-shop fairness continues to this day, partly due to Haas’ legacy.”

Haas was a friend and mentor to many in the industry, known for his sense of humor, integrity and joy for life.

Dan Bennet, director of business development for labor supplier Tradesmen International and former executive vice president of ABC, notes that Haas was a consummate public relations pro in thinking strategically about how to communicate the association's message—particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, an era when union tensions were especially high.

In 1988, Bennet and Haas met preemptively with dozens of media outlets to prepare for threats to disrupt ABC’s annual national convention in San Francisco. “The unions were really after us,” Bennet says, contending that organized labor pelted convention attendees with eggs and was marshaling its forces to stage violent protests.

Meeting with media outlets ahead of time was “a brilliant move,” Bennet says.

He adds that Haas was not only “really good” at what he did, but was one of the most “genuine, honest and humble” people he has ever worked with.

A celebration of Haas' life will be held at Manor Country Club, 14901 Carrolton Road, Rockville, Md., on Tuesday, April 17 at 2 p.m.