The union has received notification in recent weeks of the deaths of three former vice presidents of the United Transportation Union.
Five-term UTU Vice President Peter Patsouras passed away on Thursday, Sept. 10. He was 76 years old.Joining the union in August 1965, he was elected in 1967 as local chairperson of Local 1825 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was elected general chairperson of Norfolk & Western’s Wheeling & Lake Erie Division in 1976 and was elected alternate vice president in 1979. He was elevated to UTU vice president upon the retirement of Vice President Jim Burke in June 1982 and was re-elected at the 1983, ’87, ’91,’95 and ’99 UTU conventions, serving as a VP for more than two full decades of union history until his retirement in 2003.
“Pete was a great guy,” said retired SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch. “Not only was he a great union leader, he was the person who started the modern environmental movement.”
Patsouras was present to witness a bit of Northeast Ohio and, by extension, U.S. history on June 22, 1969. As a crew member on the Norfolk & Western train that sparked the infamous Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland, he saw an event that drew national attention and a bit of infamy to the city of Cleveland.
The fire reportedly was caused by a fusee, a long torch resembling an oversized matchstick used by flagmen, that an unidentified crew member had dropped into the river to extinguish. (Media reports described the fire’s cause as a “spark” from a diesel locomotive). Instead of going out, the fusee caught contaminants in the river’s water on fire. The blaze drew national attention from Time Magazine, among others, and was seen as spurring the eventual passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
“That was the trigger they needed to clean up the environment. It (the river) was terrible. The oil and all the chemicals that were just thrown in there by a number of businesses, you wouldn’t want to put a finger in for fear of pulling back a stump,” Patsouras said in an interview published in the September 2019 SMART Transportation Division News regarding the fire’s 50th anniversary.
Former UTU Vice President John L. Easley of Apple Valley, Calif., passed away Aug. 26 at age 87.
A veteran of the Korean War, Easley joined the union in August 1961 and was a member of Local 811 in San Bernardino, Calif.
Easley was elected a local chairman in the early 1960s, became a general chairperson in the 1970s was elected a UTU vice president in 1983 before his retirement in 1995.
Willard Pearl, 86, of Pueblo, Colo., a former vice president of the United Transportation Union, passed away on Aug. 24.
Pearl joined the union in September 1956 and was a switchman on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad from 1957-1971.He was Local 204’s (Pueblo, Colo.) chairperson from 1962-1971. He then was elected general chairperson and served in that capacity from 1972-1983.
He served as a vice president from 1984 to 1995, when he retired.
After retirement, Pearl continued to donate to the union’s political action committee as a platinum level contributor.
Brother Pearl was also a member of the local Masons, Eagles, and Elks Lodge.
He is survived by his wife, Donna; two daughters; two stepchildren; two grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its heart-felt condolences to the families, friends and the local brothers and sisters of these three officers who faithfully served the union for many decades.