Salvatore J. "Sonny" Barbuto, 71, a community labor leader in the region for four decades, died Thursday, Dec. 13, of a pulmonary embolism at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

A longtime South Philadelphia resident and a graduate of Bishop Neumann High School, Mr. Barbuto obtained his bachelor's degree in journalism from Temple University.

Mr. Barbuto began his career in 1959 as an administrator for the Retail Clerks Union Local 1360 in South Jersey.

He was hired in 1964 by a sister local, Retail Clerks Union 1357, AFL-CIO, in Philadelphia, as executive assistant to the president; the bargaining unit is now the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1776.

Over the years, he held various posts with the union - community representative, organizer, and collective-bargaining representative, executive editor of the union's newspaper, and founding director of the local union's retirees' chapter.

In 1974, he accepted his first job with the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania as AFL-CIO community services liaison. Three years later, he became director of the new labor division in United Way's campaign department.

Over the next two decades, he rose to become the United Way's labor vice president in 1997.

He retired in 1999.

Michelle McNally said her uncle loved to talk politics but would never "get heated," no matter how intense the debate.

"He was the voice of reason in an Italian family," she said. He never married.

Mr. Barbuto collected owls; bird figurines were everywhere in his home, and his niece regarded them as emblematic. "He was always wise beyond his years," she said.

He served on the board of directors of Independence Blue Cross and chaired its consumer advisory committee.

In addition, he was a member of numerous community agency boards and taught labor courses at Pennsylvania State, Rutgers, and Temple Universities.

Surviving are his brother, Bruno V.; his sister, Marie A. Hudgeons; and nieces and nephews.

Services were held earlier at Old St. Mary's Church in Old City, where he was a member. Interment was in Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill.

Contributions may be made to the Children's Tumor Foundation, 95 Pine St., 16th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook

at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.