Thursday, August 07, 2014

Solidarity Forever, Patrick

"We all have to die sometime. I just have the luxury of knowing pretty much when."

Patrick Hughes told me that a week ago Saturday, the last time I saw him. We were at a hastily called Party For Patrick that was the very definition of a celebration of life. In a union hall with burgers and brats and cold drinks and old time labor folk songs, surrounded by Democrats and union brothers and sisters. A perfect event, like so many others we'd shared with him.

Patrick had told the other union leaders, the ones who now have to pick up the huge work he did, that if they were going to have a party they should do it very soon. We had known since January that he had cancer and that it was extremely serious and incurable.

Once again, as always, he knew what he was talking about. The end came yesterday.

Patrick was direct and brilliant and always kept track of the big picture. And he had that depth, to look at his own imminent death and see it as a "luxury," a chance to say goodbye and an opportunity to have a party.

There were so many things Patrick did, above and beyond his decades of leadership as president of the Iowa City Federation of Labor and his Democratic activism. 

He took the county's old license plates and, in a labor-intensive process, recycled them and donated the money to charity. Last year he used his carpentry skills, for he was a carpenter by trade, and built a beautiful recycling box for the plates, which stands outside the Administration Building as a service, and now a memorial. He served as a township trustee and chaired the compensation board that helped set the salary of elected officials - the very definition of a thankless task.

And he played the banjo, singing those old labor ballads at countless Labor Day picnics.

Once word got out that Patrick's days were few, we enjoyed the time he had left, and gave him some honors that he'd long ago earned but now were urgent, like the Democratic Party Hall of Fame. He didn't seek out honors like that. He just got to work and earned them. Because he was, above all else, a working man.

We'll miss Patrick, and I told him that on that last time I saw him. But we're not alone, because he told me. "I'm gonna miss me, too."

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