Bobby English Memoriam: Even Keeled Gentle Giant
UCOMM’s Kris LaGrange sits down with Local 66 Business Manager Steve Flanagan to talk about Bobby English’s untimely passing.
Explain this picture.
This picture was taken after a golf outing. I don’t like to play golf so my brother often would fill in for me. After the outing, Bobby, my brother, and myself went back to my brother’s house to hang. Bobby would often hang out with not only me but my family as well. He often went to St. Patrick’s Day parties with his family. Both of our families were close.
What type of impact did Bobby’s death have on the local?
Losing someone as important as Bobby was devastating. He was with us in the office for 16 years. There is no way to replace him overnight and not one of my staff wants to. His death is also a reminder to all of us that we are getting older and that it might be time to bring some new blood into our local’s leadership.
Bobby was recently honored by Long Island Labor Advisory Committee (LILAC), what was that like?
That was a tough night. His wife Lisa and son Nick were there to accept the honor. Just a really tough night.
I noticed that the wake was easier and subdued, but the funeral was hard.
I did everything in the moment I wasn’t thinking about work. I didn’t expect such a large turnout. I wanted to make sure that there was a good showing so we called and texted all of our members. The information also went out to politicians and other labor leaders. Bobby would have been shocked by the turnout.
In our normal course of business, we rattle so many cages that you sometimes feel like you are only making enemies. The wake and the funeral showed how many people respected him. The turnout was fit for a cop shot in duty or a head of state. At one point there was a 2-hour wait to get into the funeral. They couldn’t let everyone in, so many people were lined up outside. There was a good mix of people, politicians; 800 rank and file members, even contractors showed up. I’m sure I missed some people to. I can only imagine how many said they weren’t waiting on the line. The last three presidents of the Building Trades Council were there. It was overwhelming.
I have been through wakes, but Bobby’s kids didn’t know what to do. Obviously, they have never lost a parent. I told them to stand by the casket and let everyone pay their respects. I stood with them to help them get through it. I never left Bobby’s side. Being there was just as hard as when I buried my mother. Funerals are never easy, but it is a lot easier when you are at a funeral for a retired member who lived a long life. Bobby was 53 on the day of the wake, it was just way too soon. Sadly this is the second person from our Local who died at 53. It’s just very sad
What did Bobby’s death teach you?
Bobby’s death really showed me that our local is getting old. I came in right after and looked up at the people on the dais, and saw that we are the present but not the future. Too many unions are being led almost exclusively by members in their 50’s who are just waiting to retire. It doesn’t make us stronger. We need young talent to keep the union strong, people who can gain decades of experience. My job as Business Manager is to leave our union better and stronger then when I came in and we are doing a disservice if we don’t train the future.
I am going to get younger people in. My job is to make the local union better than when I came in.
Would Bobby agree?
He would. We discussed this before he died. We talked about not going too young, people still need to learn what it means to be a Local 66 member before they can be a good representative.
These are stressful jobs. We lost two people, sure there were other contributing factors, but the stress of the job is definitely a huge factor. I have got to recognize that it taxes us, it takes a toll on our bodies. I don’t know that I would have said it before he died. I didn’t recognize it before.
Do you think we have given ourselves enough time to mourn and honor him? Did we move on to quickly?
Everyone hasn’t moved on yet. I have to. I have to do my job every day. The world doesn’t stop because someone died, so, unfortunately, you have to get back to work. When my father passed away I only took 3 days.
It was a tough day coming back. Some of the people in the office were very upset, crying in the office even the following week. No one wanted to answer the phone and have to talk about it. We still haven’t gone into his office. Only his wife and son have gone into take his personal items. It will be my job to clear it out, but I haven’t even thought about going in there yet.
I have been hitting jobs, trying to fill the hole. Moving on is tough, but I also know that I have a duty to best represent the members and that I needed to start the process. I had to put someone on the road. I told Tony Senia. I found a spot for him and that he needed to go on the road. Over these last few weeks, we only had one agent active as some have been away on vacation, so it’s been all hands on deck.
With all of us getting older, in some ways, it is time to move on and bring in the young talent I was talking about earlier. We have enough experience in the office to train new agents and there is a lot of training that needs to be done. Let’s be honest, reading and handling finances aren’t most laborers cup of tea, so we need to teach our agents their importance. I will say this though, I’m not asking the next person to be Bobby, that would be to much pressure. I do think though that they would do well if they learned from him and follow some of the lessons that he taught everyone here in the office.