Gwen York died yesterday, the result of an accidental fall in a parking garage. It was a Valentine's Day of breaking hearts throughout the state labor federation.
Gwen was the best of what labor has to offer, and not just because she was a pioneering leader in the Transport Workers Union, a respected member of the Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board, an amazing organizer and a fierce advocate for working families across the state.
Gwen saw a better future and a way to get there. She defined leadership, mentoring young union activists -- especially young union women -- who will carry on in her footsteps. She was a key player in the broadening of the Dallas AFL-CIO's repertoire and a welcoming figure to Texans trying to grasp what unions do. She had local, state and national admirers. She was one of the kindest people in our movement.
Gwen knew better days were coming regardless of any one person. She deserved to see them herself. Her death is epically unfair.
Her partnership with her spouse, Mark York, Secretary-Treasurer of the Dallas AFL-CIO and also a Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board member, was a beautiful, romantic thing to behold. They met on a picket line and lived the union life together. Their strength and love were more than the sum of the parts. That synergy somehow survives in the form of Gwen's legacy.
Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said Gwen York's contribution to the Texas labor movement was substantial and lasting.
"The labor movement is in many ways a family," Levy said, "and so it is that we hurt so much today as we mourn the loss of a leader who inspired us so deeply."
"Sister Gwen York's life was a precious gift to us. She loved the labor movement, and she made it her life's work. She was an incredibly strong woman who understood that all of us get stronger when we share our strength. Though we are much diminished today by this terrible loss, we are so much better off because of what Gwen did for us and with us, making a difference not just in Texas, but in the entire nation."
"We send thoughts of peace and comfort to our dear Brother Mark and to Gwen's daughter, Alyson, the light of her life."
Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay said Sister York's work in building women's programs at the Texas AFL-CIO is bearing fruit.
"Gwen was very supportive of the Women's Committee (which was the subject of a key resolution at the Texas AFL-CIO COPE Convention)," Garibay said. "She came to our office and offered her resources without hesitation. She was an open book of knowledge and like a big sister. There was always something special about her."
The Texas AFL-CIO cannot calculate all the ways Gwen York will be missed, though we will miss her at a bone-deep level.
What we can say is that all of us are grieving. The state labor federation offers our condolences to the York family, the TWU, the Dallas AFL-CIO and all who loved Gwen.
Arrangements are pending. We will pass along the death notice when it is available. Brother York posted this on Facebook:
Dear Union Sister's, Brother's, Friends and Family,
It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you of the homecoming of my wife and your Union Sister, Gwen York.
Gwen peacefully transitioned surrounded by the love and peace of her family members; Myself, Daughter Alyson and her Sister Wanda.
Details of Funeral Arrangements will follow soon.