Moving service pays tribute to Larry Wagg

OTTAWA – Family and friends gathered here in April to celebrate the life of Larry Wagg at a moving Memorial Service which at times took on aspects of a good union meeting. Larry, whose inspiration and leadership led to the creation of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC), was 83. He died after a brief and courageous battle with cancer on April 10.

Larry Wagg, Past-President of CURC and former National Director of Education for the Canadian Labour Congress.

Larry Wagg, Past-President of CURC and former National Director of Education for the Canadian Labour Congress.

He was a life-long trade unionist and social democrat whose dedication to the movement spanned more than six decades. He was a loving husband to his wife of 61 years, Marilyn, and a steadfast father to son David and daughter Brenda.

Characterized by some as “a sports nut with a social conscience,” his baseball knowledge was encyclopedic, his love of “the Leafs” undiminished throughout their lean years and his golfing exploits the stuff of legend. An avid gardener, Larry was an active member of the Central Friends of the Experimental Farm and helped establish the Hosta Gardens there in the Arboretum.

Larry Norman Wagg was born in Redwing Ontario on November 18, 1926.

He started his work life as a printer’s apprentice at the Guelph Daily Mercury and as a Journeyman at the Brantford Expositor, where he was elected President of his International Typographical Union Local and also as President of the Brantford and District Labour Council.

His leadership talents earned him a position on the coveted Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference in 1962, where he traversed Canada, expanding his knowledge of the labour movement. Later that same year he joined the staff of the Canadian Labour Congress as Assistant Director of Education for the Ontario Region. He subsequently served as Director of Education for the Prairie Region before returning to Toronto as Education Director for Ontario and in 1974 moved to Ottawa to become CLC National Director of Education.
In this capacity he is credited with building CLC Education Services into a major and lasting force within the labour movement.

It was Larry Wagg who shared in convincing then Labour Minister John Munro and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to give the labour movement millions of dollars a year to build a labour education system. He reckoned that deteriorating labour-management relations in the 70’s might push the government to look favourably on a program of education run by the labour movement. He was right, and rough calculations show that labour education benefited from some $120-million in federal funding.

His legacy in the field of education is far reaching. He took the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and Swedish models of worker-teaching-worker, brought them to Canada and today they are a main feature of our union education programs. He also was instrumental in promoting and developing Paid Educational Leave programs by working in support of many Congress affiliates.

From 1981-86 Larry was Canada’s Labour Counsellor to Great Britain and Sweden serving in the Canadian High Commission in London, making frequent trips to Sweden. Larry returned to the CLC in 1986 until his retirement when he took up the challenge of building CURC.

For his entire adult life Larry pursued the ideals of social democracy and was a constant and loyal activist and supporter of the CCF and then the New Democratic Party and in fact was a delegate to the founding convention of the NDP.

Following his retirement from the CLC Larry became the First Vice-president at CURC’s Founding Convention in 1993 and went on to become a vigorous President for more than a decade guiding the fledgling organization though some tumultuous times.

His role in building CURC was recalled by current CURC President Pat Kerwin, who said Larry was able to draw on his years of experience in helping shape bright young trade unionists to build a strong retirees union.

Danny Mallet, one of those “young trade unionists” who Larry took into his fold back in the 1980’s and who today is National Education Director, remembered his mentor as “a quiet behind-the-scenes guy, but who was forceful and doggedly persistent. He was totally unselfish and truly believed in Woodsworth’s Grace, ‘What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.’”

Larry’s golfing exploits were many and one of his golfing buddies, Kevin Collins, the retired Research Director of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transport Workers union, recalled his passion for the game and for camaraderie on a recent trip to Ireland.

Larry’s daughter Brenda brought a family perspective to the tributes, sharing with us her memories of how trade union principles shaped family life.

It was Fred Pomeroy, retired President of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union who “chaired” the memorial service, who summed up his tribute with the observation that “Larry didn’t just try to tell us how life should be lived. He showed by his own example, by the obvious values that he followed in his daily life and the way that he treated others.

“He was an unpretentious man who always had empathy for those who were less fortunate in life. But when it was necessary he could be as strong as steel in defending the values that he held so dearly.”

– Neville Hamilton

A message of thanks from the Wagg family

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