James Rondeau had roles in boxing

James Rondeau traveled the world, refereeing boxing matches between some of the most famous people in the sport.

It was this ability to be fair that carried him into the ring, as well as in his professional life, where he served as director of the state's Department of Labor and Industries.

Mr. Rondeau, a lifelong resident of the Puget Sound area, died Wednesday (Dec. 24) after collapsing at his Camano Island beach home. He was 85.

The most prestigious match at which he officiated was between George Foreman and Ken Norton in 1974 in Caracas, Venezuela, according to his son, Jim Rondeau Jr.

It was controversial at the time because Foreman had requested an English-speaking referee, which led to a dispute between the American and Venezuelan representatives.

Minutes before the bell rang, the argument was settled and Mr. Rondeau entered the ring. Foreman annihilated Norton in two rounds and went on to lose to Muhammad Ali for the world title that year.

In addition to being a part-time referee, Mr. Rondeau also served in several formal roles in boxing. He was appointed in 1962 to the Washington State Boxing Commission, which was responsible for overseeing everything from the players to the referees.

He held that position for 16 years before the commission was eliminated.

"He was a fair and decent man," said Stan Naccarato, a friend and fellow commissioner. "I always called him first because he had a good slant towards fairness."

In 1966, Mr. Rondeau was elected to the International Boxing Federation, where he was responsible for training and evaluating officials, referees and judges. He held that position for 36 years and traveled to such places as Athens, Greece; Buenos Aires; Puerto Rico; Jamaica; and Hong Kong.

For him, refereeing was only a hobby; it did not pay the bills.

He worked at several companies after high school, including Foss Launch and Tug, a Seattle-based tugboat and marine-services firm. It was there he negotiated union contracts with the shipbuilders, building a reputation for being fair. This led to his appointment as director of the state's Department of Labor and Industries, where he served one term.

Mr. Rondeau was born June 19, 1918. He grew up in Bremerton, graduating from Bremerton High School in 1937, the same year he helped the football team make it to the state-championship game.

A few years later, he married his wife, Billie, who died of Parkinson's disease in 2001.

In retirement, he remained active, playing golf in Palm Desert, Calif., where he lived in the winter.

"He did everything, he fished and crabbed. He was a very athletic guy who loved to garden," said his son, Jim, of Everett.

In addition to his son, he is survived by daughters Carole Kogon and Diane Rondeau, both of Seattle; and several grandchildren. At his request, there will be no services.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com