This past Saturday, February 9, a memorial service celebrating the life and work of Lois Gray was held to commemorate her passing on September 20, 2018. Lois Gray's career spanned over 70 years as a labor educator and she was a close associate of Harry Van Arsdale Jr, helping to support his ideals of education as critical to the success of working people and also to carry on his legacy after Harry passed in 1986.
Lois' influence on labor education, the labor movement, unions, leaders, advocates, and allies will continue on through the Cornell ILR Worker Institute's Lois Gray Labor Innovation Initiative and Fund, of which the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association and Local 3 are proud supporters.
Christopher Erikson Jr., Local #3 Business Representative and President of the HVA Jr. Memorial Association, spoke at the memorial service on behalf of Business Manager Erikson and the members of Local #3, whose lives have been made better because of the working relationship Lois Gray held with our great union and its leaders for decades.
Click on the image below to view more photos of Lois Gray.
Remarks from the Memorial:
Christopher Erikson Jr.
President, Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association
February 9, 2019
Good morning sisters and brothers. Firstly, I would like to thank the organizers of this event, Cornell University ILR School, the Worker Institute, and everybody present for the opportunity to offer remarks on the life and legacy of Lois Gray.
My name is Christopher Erikson Jr, President of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association. I am also a Business Representative of Local #3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a graduate of the Cornell Union Leadership Institute, a 5th generation IBEW union electrician, and the great-grandson of Harry Van Arsdale Jr.
I am here today representing the Business Manager of Local #3 Christopher Erikson who couldn’t be with us to offer remarks, but I am also here on behalf of Local #3’s 30,000 members plus thousands of retirees and everybody who has benefited from the decades-long working relationship between Lois Gray and Local 3. I am also proud to be representing the Memorial Association, as Lois was a contemporary of Harry and provided much help in carrying on his legacy after his passing in 1986.
Business Manager Erikson expresses his deep regret and disappointment that he could not be here personally, but offers this message:
“I am saddened that I cannot join you all today at the celebration of Lois’ life, but I am thankful to have been able to work with her throughout the years. Through her relationship with Local 3, myself, and past Business Managers Thomas Van Arsdale and Harry Van Arsdale Jr, she was able to influence the work and direction we have all tried to move Local 3 in: always forward and always for every working person.
I have no doubt that Lois will continue to help better labor education and the labor movement through all the lives she has touched, as she now serves as a model for generations of labor educators and working people to come.”
So while I am only the pinch hitter today, being here today is a special opportunity personally to offer remarks on behalf of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association and join this celebration of Lois’ life. As I look at the love in this room from family and friends, colleagues and peers, through the quality of leadership of both the speakers on the program and those in attendance, it shows the breadth of influence Lois Gray had on not only in the academic world, but also on the unions, their leadership, and their members throughout New York City and New York State.
Lois Gray’s life and legacy represent the past, present, and future of both labor education and the labor movement. Not everyone gets a memorial celebration like this; Lois certainly deserves it and we are here for good reason. As for the past, Lois’ experiences and work for over 70 years exemplifies a life of service to others; in the present, we dedicate our fights on behalf of working people every day to Lois’ memory; and certainly, our future will be brighter through the Lois Gray Innovation Fund and Initiative.
As I stated, Lois and Harry were contemporaries throughout their lives, and the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association has had a close working relationship with Cornell and Lois in particular, through the HVA Jr Research Fellowship here in New York City. This has been an opportunity for a graduate student or senior in the ILR School to conduct research on Harry while using his actions as a guide and lens to address various issues and challenges in today’s Labor Movement. Some of the topics covered over the years included labor and politics, collective bargaining, the organizing of various trades and industries in NYC, cooperative union housing, diversity and inclusion within the labor movement, labor-community alliances, and empowering young workers.
Lois had supervised this program throughout its existence. The topics of these fellowship projects have the fingerprints of Lois Gray throughout them. Harry Van Arsdale Jr. was a progressive creative innovator throughout his 60 plus year career in the labor movement starting as Business Manager in 1933 at 28 years old throughout his time as president of the NYC Central Labor Council, as much as Lois was a progressive and creative innovator as a Labor Educator -- both had extraordinary vision when it came to helping working people, but more importantly their leadership allowed their visions to become reality by dedicating their lives to the cause. I am happy to take this opportunity to confirm the Memorial Association’s commitment to continue sponsoring the Fellowship Program in conjunction with Cornell ILR and the Worker Institute.
Through her role supervising the Fellowship program, Lois was able to guide dozens of young labor activists, including my younger brother Thomas Erikson, ILR Graduate 2014 and now a labor attorney working for one of the firms that represent Local 3.
Lois Gray’s impact on students is immeasurable. She provided insights, guidance, and a worldliness to countless young women and men. We as labor leaders and those who have committed ourselves to fight for working people every day owe Lois immensely, as our work is made easier and much more effective by the allies that help our cause who have been shaped and molded by Lois through her work at Cornell. Knowing that a close colleague of Harry helped convey his legacy to a generation that unfortunately never got to know Harry personally - that strengthens my hope for the future of the labor movement.
Both Harry and Lois understood the absolute need for education throughout all stages of working life; that education wasn’t just a benefit or a perk, but critical to face the challenges they both saw coming. Their lives spanned labor’s life cycle over the past 80 years. They didn’t just ride the wave of increasing union density in the 40’s and 50’s, but both took definitive actions to increase and grow that wave in size and strength, to directly stoke the fire that allowed hundreds of thousands of people in our city and state entrance to the middle class – especially focusing their efforts on people of color and women as equally deserving of good jobs, good benefits, and a future.
This was hard work and it was a life dedicated to the cause. I am humbled to even be able to offer remarks on two giants such as Lois and Harry. More importantly, I am heartened to know this work will continue through the Lois Gray Labor Innovation Initiative. Today, I am proud to announce that the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Memorial Association has proudly committed to make a $10,000 donation to honor Lois’s life and her relationship with Harry Van Arsdale Jr.. IBEW Local 3 has also committed to support the fund with a donation to follow, but I will leave that up to the Business Manager. To be able to carry on Lois’ legacy in a real and tangible way that will support, nurture, and strengthen the labor movement is the best possible memorial to a life well lived.
Lois is the type of person we should all strive to be like, and the type of person we should strive to have relationships with because knowing Lois meant that because of her we would end up better people.
We all owe Lois Gray a debt of gratitude for dedicating her life to labor education: by helping all workers, fostering today’s leaders, and ensuring her life’s work will continue through the Lois Gray Labor Innovation Initiative.
Thank you all.