By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Patrick Bray, a 32-year member of Laborers Local 660 killed during an accident on the Blanchette Bridge reconstruction, was remembered this month as MoDOT named a local highway in his honor.
More than 150 people joined with the Bray family to remember their son, father, grandfather and friend killed June 10, 2013, after being struck by a 55-gallon drum while working from a barge near the bridge. Work on the historic westbound Blanchette Bridge was preparing to finish about a month later.
The boardroom of the Missouri Department of Transportation office in Chesterfield was filled as Bray’s two daughters, Kayla and Kelli, unveiled a shrouded sign honoring their father. The LU660 member, a Jerseyville resident, will now be permanently memorialized by the “Patrick J. Bray Memorial Highway,” with the sign posted in the area of Highway 370, between Interstate 70 and Third Street in St. Charles County.
“I’m finally going to feel a sense of ease,” Bray’s daughter Kayla Bray said. “He deserves to be recognized.”
‘A GOOD UNION MAN’
Laborers Local 660 Secretary-Treasurer, Business Representative Phil Pryor said. “Pat Bray was the kind of guy you wanted in your union.”
“Pat was a good Laborer; a good union man,” Pryor said. “He was never a slacker. He knew the work and always stood up for the work rules and the union. He was a good guy.”
In a statement released by the family, they said Patrick’s “family first” attitude was never talked about or asked for, but was a by-product of the loving environment in which he was raised. His daughters said Pat was a “salt of the earth” guy always offering to lend a hand to those in need.
“I learned a lot about Pat at his funeral visitation. I lost count of the number of people who told me he'd helped them out unexpectedly on projects ranging from concrete pads to setting posts to taking up for kids being picked on,” a family member commented in the statement.
DAUGHTERS DROVE MEMORIAL EFFORT
To gain approval for the MoDOT memorial, the family, primarily daughters Kayla and Kelli, had to gain approval from the MoDOT officials. They also paid a fee of $2,400, raised through a trivia night, for the sign’s maintenance for 20 years.
Kayla said the family plans to continue their work to raise funds to remember Patrick. Their next project, they said, will be buying a brick with Patrick’s name placed at the State Capitol where those who lost lives on the job will be remembered.
The day of the highway dedication also marked what would have been the 53rd birthday of this man they said had a strong love of family, an innate ability to care about people and a work ethic that meant finishing what he started. He had the hours to retire, his daughters said, but he wanted to stay “till he finished the job.”
Dennis Schneier, recording secretary and business representative with Laborers Local 660 said he and Bray had worked together 30 years. They were not just co-workers, he said; they were friends.
“No one could out work him and no one was more dedicated to the trade,” Schneier said. “He had the trade in him and duty was first. That was his character trait, and the best way I can put it.”
REMINDER OF DANGERS
Schneier also said the memorial will remind people of the dangers posed in heavy construction environments. Schneier said recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that bridge work is among the top 10 most deadly jobs.
Several speakers reminisced about Bray, including Jerseyville Mayor Richard Perdun who tearfully recalled their lifelong relationship, “There wasn’t a better family than the Brays,” and his life-long parish priest, The Rev. William Hembrow of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Jerseyville who said he said he was “loyal and faithful to his church and was a just a high class guy.”
“He spent the majority of his life building bridges, roads and railroads,” Father Hembrow added. “The honor is appropriate. Route 370 will serve as a reminder of his legacy.”
Bray is the son of Bob and Joy Bray; he had seven siblings, including his fraternal twin, Michael. He has two daughters, Kayla and Kelli and grandchildren. Pat started working as a laborer at age 18, hammering railroad spikes in Pacific, Missouri, his family said.