It was standing room only at a memorial for former CLC President Bob White at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Friday. More than 600 union and community activists and leaders joined his family to celebrate his life.
CLC President Hassan Yussuff thanked White’s family for sharing him with the labour movement.
“Bob was unique, tough as nails, articulate, loved by the media, compassionate, loving and was a visionary. His mark on our movement and our country will be felt for a long time,” he said.
Unifor National President Jerry Dias said that, for Bob, the rank and file meant everything.
“He knew you couldn't have success unless the members were engaged. The grassroots had to be involved and had to lead,” he said. “He was smart, tough, articulate, challenging and determined. He always called it the way he saw it. He was a pioneer.”
“We are a better nation because of you. Thank you brother,” he added.
CLC Secretary-Treasurer Barb Byers emceed the memorial. “He didn’t feel that he was diminished if someone else was better at something. He wasn’t afraid to lead and he wasn't afraid to learn,” she said. “He was not afraid of challenge or change.”
Bob’s son Shawn White talked about life as the labour leader’s son. His father was away during the week, “but when the weekends came, it was Dad 2.0.”
“He strongly believed that if you can help someone, you should,” he said.
Basil “Buzz” Hargrove, former president of the CAW, talked about how Bob embraced life and all of the challenges he faced in both his union and personal life.
“He loved the camaraderie and working with local unions. He had the greatest respect for people who stood for union office, especially in the smaller shops. He loved working with coalitions. He was one of the greatest trade unionists in the world,” said Hargrove.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, sent a message to the memorial by video. She remembered White as an extraordinary man who had devoted himself to improving the lives of all working people.
“Your spirit, your teachings, your challenges will live on in our hearts and in the work we all do to build social justice every day,” said Burrow.
White’s daughter, Robyn, talked about how lucky she had been to be her dad’s daughter, and about all the ways he had been such a caring and devoted father.
“He was supportive and encouraging every step of the way. All of the charisma and charm that he exuded as a labour leader was there for his family as well,” she said.
The memorial ended with a band called “the SPECIAL INTEREST group” playing White’s favourite song: Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.