Carol Coffey’s career ranged from telecom exec to coffee shop owner

06/05/2014 6:33 PM

06/06/2014 7:14 AM

Carol Coffey had a terrifically successful career, struggling only in her efforts to retire.

Following decades as a high-flying telecom executive, Ms. Coffey spent the last 16 years of her life in Wichita as an active volunteer and, for the last eight, as co-owner of Scooter’s Coffeehouse, where she would come in at 4:30 a.m. to start the coffeemakers.

Ms. Coffey, 67, died Tuesday during heart surgery. A rosary will be said at 7 p.m. Friday at Downing & Lahey Mortuary West; the funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

She was born in Wichita and learned her managerial skills as the second in a family of 14, said her sister, Deb Siems. Their father, Herb Clinesmith, was a manager for Dillon Stores. They moved to the Westlink area in 1958 when her father took over as manager of the new Dillons at Central and Tyler, then the largest in the chain.

After graduating from Maize High School in 1964, Ms. Coffey left Wichita for southern California, where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She worked full time for international construction company Fluor Daniel Corp., commuting 100 miles a day, while she studied part time for a master’s of business administration at the University of Southern California.

As her career took off, she moved to Houston for Fluor Daniel, said her sister, but spent much of her time on the road setting up telecom switching stations across the country and later the world.

She then went work for US West and watched the dissolution of the Soviet Union up close in the early ’90s as she and her husband, Charlie, led the effort to build the first cellphone network in that country. She got to see the chaos, including the failed 1991 coup, and emergence of new forces in Russia, Siems said.

“When the Russian mafia was taking over after the coup, they didn’t think they needed to pay their bills,” Siems said. “So (the company) shut them off. And these guys would go into the stores with their guns drawn demanding that they turn their phones back on. And Carol said, ‘No, pay your bills.’ ”

During Ms. Coffey’s time there, she traveled with an armed driver, her sister said.

Her husband, Charlie, died while they worked in Russia. So when she finished her contract, she decided to retire. However, she was lured back to work for Qwest Communications.

“They made her an offer she couldn’t refuse,” Siems said.

She finally retired three years later and moved to Wichita in 1998.

“We were both going to retire and travel and have fun,” Siems said.

Ms. Coffey remained full of energy. She threw herself into volunteering for Catholic Charities and at St. Francis of Assisi parish, but needed another outlet.

“She was going crazy,” her sister said.

So, Siems persuaded her in 2006 to help start up the coffee franchise. They now have three Scooter’s Coffeehouse locations in Wichita.

“She was very fun, very fun-loving and very giving,” Siems said.

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