The Rhode Island Labor movement lost a legend early Wednesday morning with the passing of Jerome “Jerry” Egan. Brother Egan was
a teacher at Cumberland High School, a past President of the Cumberland Teachers Association, former State Representative for the Edgewood and Pawtuxtet neighborhoods in Cranston, and for the last 23 years a staff organizer at NEARI, where I got to work with him for the last 7 years.
In every single meaning of the phrase, Jerry Egan is a working class hero. Hundreds…thousands of people across the state, without even knowing it, benefitted from the work that he did, both as a legislator and more importantly as a Union organizer. As we learned of Jerry’s passing from lymphoma at the age 68 yesterday morning, the NEARI office began to reflect of our favorite Jerry stories. They all begin with the story of Jerry in some kind of a jam – with a school committee, or the legislative leadership, or on a picket line—but they all end with laughter and smiles because he just had this way of not caring about what the politic or politically correct thing, or even the easy thing, to do was. Just the right thing. And that’s why so many people loved him.
It is Jerry’s big heart — his do anything for his fellow Union members approach to life that he will be most remembered for. I will always remember one time when he sent out a call for picket line support for some members up in New Hampshire who were going to be picketing an event on a Sunday morning at 7AM in the middle of winter. Jerry, who had a hard time breathing, especially in the cold, met me at a Dunkin Donuts in Rhode Island and the two of us drove 4 hours through an ice storm to walk a line in the freezing cold for people we didn’t know for a cause we knew little about other than the call went out and people needed our support. That’s just the type of guy he was.
Jerry was the president of the staff union for myself and my co-workers at NEARI and was on the committee that interviewed me when I applied for the job I was eventually hired for at NEARI. I can honestly say he changed my life forever. I never got a change to say this before he died, but thanks Brother. In the words of our homeland ……..Tiocfaidh ár lá!
His funeral will be Saturday at 8:00 am from the Frank P. Trainor & Sons Funeral Home, 982 Warwick Avenue, Warwick. Mass of Christian Burial in St. Michael Church 239 Oxford St., Providence at 9 am. Calling Hours Friday 3-8 pm. In lieu of flowers donations in his memory to St. Michael Church or the Dana Farber Cancer Institute P.O. Box 849168 Boston, MA 02284 will be appreciated. Burial with military honors will be in the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery.