Obituary : Lawrence N. Spitz
Lawrence N. Spitz, a pioneer of the labor movement in New England, died on December 5, surrounded by his family, in Sun City, Ariz. Born on February 19, 1912, in Brooklyn, N.Y., he moved to Providence in 1917. His first visit to Martha's Vineyard was that same year, aboard his grandfather's fishing boat. He stayed in Gay Head, on the Diamond property, and forged friendships that would last decades.
Larry joined the United Textile Workers of America in 1930 and began a life-long pursuit of advancing the economic and social welfare of working people. He was instrumental in forming the Congress of Industrial Organizations in Rhode Island, served as General Secretary of the Industrial Trades Union in Woonsocket, and drafted and mustered support for key legislation, including the Rhode Island Fair Housing Act, the Labor Relations Act, the Cash Sickness Act, and the Anti-Injunction Act.
In 1938, he married Lillian Korenbaum, a marriage that lasted 60 years until her death in 1998. He served in the Philippines as an Army staff sergeant during WWII. Upon his return, he went to Brown University on the GI Bill of Rights and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude, in three years, while working full time as a sub-district director for the United Steel Workers of America. In 1956, with the help of his friends, he built a house in East Pasture, Gay Head and from then on spent weekends both winter and summer working on his land. He loved his gardens and his Gravely. During the early 60s, he worked closely with the Steamship Authority employees during their strike.
He was also active in many social and civic organizations in Rhode Island, and as chairman of the Medical Economics Committee of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, he played a major role in seeking to develop improved health programs for all Rhode Islanders.
In 1965, he and his family moved to Pittsburgh, Penn., where he worked as Director of the Wage Division of the United Steel Workers of America. In 1967, he became Executive Director of Community Progress, Inc., a community development program in New Haven, Conn. From 1968 until his retirement in 1978, he served as Assistant to the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the United Steel Workers of America and worked closely with the International Labor Affairs Office of the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
Larry was appointed Associate Fellow, Trumbull College of Yale University in 1966 and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Brown University in 1976. He lectured extensively at colleges and universities throughout the Northeast, Maryland, the West Indies, and Europe and for labor and management groups from Europe, Asia, and South America. His work led to contacts and close friendships with prominent and diverse figures spanning many decades, from the United Mine Workers' leader John L. Lewis, artist David Siqueiros, and Algonquin Round Table wit Dorothy Parker to Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica.
He retired in 1977 and he and his wife moved to Sun City, Ariz. Even in retirement, he was faithful to his labor roots. He established and was, for almost 30 years, the president of the Union Club, a statewide group of 7,000 retired union workers representing 84 unions. This group garnered widespread support in a state that was, at that time, extremely conservative, successfully lobbying for the abolishment of the Arizona state tax on food, among other initiatives.
He and his wife worked together throughout their lives to speak up for people who were unable to speak for themselves. They created and supported organizations that improved the quality of life for entire communities through health services, theater groups, and educational classes.
He was a loving and supportive father and grandfather. He enjoyed life and the hundreds of people he was fortunate enough to meet along the way.
He is survived by his daughters, Marjorie Spitz and Barbara Bassett; and his grandchildren, Leah Bassett, Meadow Bassett, and Daniel Lee, all of Aquinnah; as well as six nieces and nephews. Memorials will be held at a future date in Providence, R.I., and Pittsburgh, Penn.
Donations in his memory may be made to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.