RUMFORD – A former union leader was killed by a falling tree Saturday morning while gathering wood on his lot.

Donald Barker, 66, was pinned against a standing tree while cutting down a large pine with a chain saw, said Sgt. James Bernard of the Rumford Police Department.

“All the evidence points to a tragic accident,” Bernard said, but the incident remained under investigation Saturday night.

Bernard said Barker’s family called a neighbor Saturday afternoon, concerned that Barker hadn’t returned home. The neighbor found Barker’s body about a quarter-mile into the woods from his 204 Martin Road home.

On-call investigators Sgt. Bernard and Rumford Lt. Daniel Garbarini got the call at about 5:30 p.m. Emergency personnel pronounced Barker dead at the scene.

Barker was president of Local 900 of the United Paperworkers International Union in the mid- to late-1980s, including during the Rumford mill strike of 1986, when about 1,200 workers at the Boise Cascade mill, now the MeadWestvaco mill, walked out.

State Sen. Bruce Bryant, who was president of the union about two years after Barker’s tenure, said he looked to Barker for guidance during his own time as union president.

According to Bryant, Barker led the union “through a period of time when companies thought they had the upper hand.”

The 1986 strike lasted 11 weeks. Barker worked to negotiate while Boise Cascade hired replacement workers. After the union and the mill negotiated an agreement, the town was left divided between union members and those who’d taken jobs to replace them.

When Bryant became president, the union appointed Barker to the Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council, a group that lobbies for paper workers and laws concerning the paper industry in America.

“Don was always trying to do the best for workers,” Bryant said. He said Barker promoted policies to keep workers safe.

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