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Washington lobbyist George Koch dies at 87

George W. Koch, pictured in this undated photo,

George W. Koch, pictured in this undated photo, led the Grocery Manufacturers of America trade association for a quarter century and was one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington. Credit: K&L Gates

WASHINGTON - George Koch, who led the Grocery Manufacturers of America trade association for a quarter-century and became one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington, died Jan. 26 at the ManorCare Health Services facility in Potomac, Md. He was 87.

The cause was coronary artery disease, said his son, Patrick Koch.

Koch was once described by The Washington Post as "one of the capital's most storied lobbyists." He came to Washington in 1959 as director of federal affairs for Sears, Roebuck & Co. and joined the grocery group as president and chief executive officer in 1966. He retired in 1990.

Early in his tenure, Koch moved the Grocery Manufacturers of America from New York to Washington. He participated in the effort to create the Universal Product Code, the bar code system used to track store products that was introduced in the early 1970s.

Koch came to greatest public prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in a matter unrelated to his day job. A member of Congressional Country Club, an elite club in Bethesda, Md., he was told one day by a waitress that she had been fired without a hearing and that the club had been shorting her wages for years.

The encounter led Koch into a yearslong legal battle in which he interviewed dozens of employees and pored over tens of thousands of documents. He concluded that the club had for years been skimming the earnings of its largely minority service staff.

The office of the Maryland attorney general found irregularities in payroll practices, but the club was not prosecuted because the statue of limitations had expired, The Washington Post reported in 1992.

Koch's family declined to comment on how the lawsuit involving the Congressional Country Club was resolved. The club also declined to comment.

"I can't save the world," Koch once said. "But I have to carry out my responsibility where I have it. I will not stop until I have rectified what has been done wrong."

George William Koch was born on April 8, 1926, in Cincinnati.

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