By ED FINKELSTEIN
In a most moving eulogy to commemorate the death of Ullico CEO Ed Smith, a dedicated, highly respected trade unionist with the Laborers International Union (LiUNA) who advocated for union jobs through investing union pension funds, many hundreds of friends, union members and leaders were joined at memorial services Jan. 13 by a unique presence of many Illinois key political and civic leaders led by Governor JB Pritzker and U.S. Representative Nicki Budzinski, Ullico’s new CEO Brian Hale and LIUNA General President Emeritus Terry O’Sullivan.
As a mark of Brother Smith’s esteem, Illinois Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth spoke on the U.S. Senate floor honoring him.
Noting that “our country needs more Ed Smiths,” Hale said of Smith, “At his core, the kindest, most decent, most thoughtful person I have ever had the honor of knowing,” praising “the important impact Ed had on tens of thousands of working people, on Ullico and its employees, on charitable organizations and causes that he believed in.”
Pointing to the very human side of Ed Smith, Hale noted that “Ed lived…his motto every day, ‘Who did I help today?’ (It was for him) more than words on a page. Ed believed good people working together can achieve anything.”
Illinois Governor Pritzker carefully wove Ed’s love for his union family with his desire to ensure politics worked for workers.
Calling him a “Labor visionary” the governor said: “He knew that Labor and politics were intrinsically linked — and used that knowledge to shape a pro-Labor landscape on a state and national level,” pointing out that his administration’s landmark infrastructure program – Rebuild Illinois – “would not be what it is today without Ed. He was THE driving force behind not only getting it passed but ensuring that workers had a STAKE in its mission. When something was built in Southern Illinois, Ed was the first person to say that it must be built by skilled Illinoisans — not workers from other states being paid low-wages. So, for every freshly paved highway, renovated community college building, expanded hospital facility, you can thank Ed.”
About his business sense, noting that Ullico is the only Labor-owned financial services company, the governor added: “What Ed set out to accomplish at Ullico was more than just innovative — it was a stroke of genius. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of union jobs, all thanks to Ed who believed that private investment and the Labor Movement could work together to better the lives of working families.”
“Ed Smith ended every day with a question his father taught him to ask: ‘Who have I helped today?’ Over the course of his life, Ed helped hundreds of thousands build better lives for themselves and their families,” said Terry O’Sullivan, Ullico’s newly-elected chairman of the Board and LiUNA general President Emeritus.
Brandon Flinn, Missouri-Kansas Laborers District Council business manager, noted the memorial turnout for his friend was “unbelievable, many hundreds over the afternoon.”
“Ed was always there for anyone who needed help – union members in the field, public officials, Labor leaders like myself, who could call him at any hour of the day or night or on weekends and he’d take your call. If someone had a really difficult issue, they could count on Ed to offer practical, sound advice that made sense.”
Flinn added that people sought Ed’s advice not only for local issues, but the “big picture, national issues that could impact working brothers and sisters everywhere. He was one helluva man…people looked to him for guidance, and no one was ever turned away.”
Added Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski (D-Ill.): “Let us always remember the spirit of generosity, kindness, dedication and wisdom that he gave to the world—and the work he did throughout his life to advance the Labor Movement and the cause of working people across our country.”
Memorial services were held in the Edward M. Smith Gymnasium at Shawnee Community College. He is survived by his wife Betty and their children Jordan and Matt. The ceremony, at which Nathan Cherry, pastor of Victory Dream Center, presided, was followed by a private burial service.
(Some information for this story provided by Ullico Communications Dept.)
Rest in peace brother Ed Smith
Ed Smith, 70, born in Cairo, Ill., began his career as a union laborer at the age of 13, following in the footsteps of his father Connell who was the business manager of Laborers Local 773, Marion, Ill. At the age of 21 Ed was elected Local 773’s business manager to succeed his dad.
Noted the Ullico announcement of his death: “…he thought of the Labor Movement as his calling rather than a job.”
Said Governor JB Pritzker at the Smith memorial service Jan. 13, “Everyone here know that Labor was in Ed’s blood. It wasn’t about making his father proud — although I have no doubt he was. It was about genuinely helping people — serving the community that raised him. And nothing was going to get in young Ed’s way.”
The first member of LiUNA to graduate from the National Labor College and a graduate of the Harvard University Trade Union Program, Brother Smith served as business manager of the Southern Illinois Laborers District Council (where he led 40 organizing campaigns across Southern Illinois in the 70s and 80s, expanding the region from three to 10 states), chairman of the Central Laborers’ Pension Fund, International Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager (serving over 58,000 members), and ultimately as assistant to the General President. He earned a seat on the LiUNA Executive Board and an appointment to the Illinois State Board of Investments—eventually becoming its chairman.
In 2008 Brother Smith took over a financially troubled Ullico as its president, ultimately creating the nation’s only union-owned insurance and investment company where unions’ pension funds would be invested with companies and real estate investments across America that benefitted union members.
In 2011 he was elected the company’s CEO, a position he held till his death.