Wednesday, February 7, 2024

JAMES ETERNO - We've lost a Giant - Tributes role in

Along with all the other things James was about, he was the best human being one can be... many comments

Even within the UFT leadership and Unity Caucus, James always received the utmost respect. There will be a moment of silence for James at today's Delegate Assembly. 

I’m still trying to find the words to express the impact of James Eterno's passing yesterday when his giant heart gave out after being hospitalized due to a devastating stroke last May, from which he never recovered. Since then and the stilling of his work on the ICE blog I have lost some of my enthusiasm for the work we were doing. James was part of a small chat group for years where we shared comments and phone calls almost every day. Not having his influence and advice has left a big hole.


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

When I saw a call to the group coming in from James on April 29, I was in a diner having breakfast with Arthur Goldstein. "That's James calling, probably to push me to call an ICE meeting." 

It was Camille to let us know James had had a stroke the day before. 

When I saw Camille calling yesterday at 3PM, I dreaded picking it up, thinking the worst. James died a few hours before and Camille was being driven to pick up their daughter at school. Camille always maintained hope James would regain enough faculties to be able to come home where the environment would speed his recovery. She reported that at times he tried to speak. He had been moved from the hospital to the nursing home on Monday and died Tuesday afternoon. Beyond the family, the entire educational community has been devastated. Texts have been coming in all morning from admirers.

Michael Fiorillo and I went to see him in the hospital a few weeks ago and despite the respirator and all the wires hooked up his color was good and his face looked like it always had. He looked at us a few times but we couldn't be sure if he heard us. There was always hope he would come out of it at some point. Camille had hoped he would get well enough to go home. Hospitals and nursing homes can be dangerous due to infections and that seems to have done him in.

When Mike Schirtzer and I visited during the summer, James' pulse jumped when we talked union politics, especially about the healthcare issue. Six of us went to see him as a group at one point and we told him all about the struggles in the UFT. Camille felt he was hearing us.

While we know how devastating this news is to the family, it is equally devastating to the union movement and the UFT, especially the opposition. James was especially important in the 2022 United For Change UFT election campaign. In fact, I'm not sure the opposition would have come together if not for him and Camille, who was our presidential candidate. Remember, James was the ICE/TJC presidential candidate in 2010, Mulgrew's first election. The only husband/wife team to run for UFT president. They were a team - the golden couple of the UFT for many of us. James also was the HS VP candidate in the 2016 election and received the most high school votes. Before they changed the constitution in 1994, James would have been on the AdCom - and what a difference that would have made.

James had been bugging me in the month before his stroke to have an in person ICE meeting and I was intending to call one in May. I was so thrown for a loop (notice how little blogging I've done since), it took me until December 27 to have an ICE meeting because I couldn't imagine one without James. Camille and James often schlepped into the city on Fridays after school, sometimes with the kids, to attend ICE meetings, which James at times termed "Norm Seminars" since I talked so much.

I'm calling another ICE meeting during the Feb. break where those who show up can reminisce about the impact James had. 

After ICE joined with TJC in 2012 to form MORE in 2012, James insisted on keeping ICE alive though meetings and the influential ICE blog which he took over from Jeff Kaufman around 2008. James never felt quite at home in MORE and liked the family type atmosphere in ICE. When a segment of MORE asked the ICE people to leave, James often said "I told you so."

To let ICE die after James put so much effort into it would besmirch his memory and all the hard work he did. But without the daily blogging James did, finding a role for ICE in the context of the current opposition and without James' counsel will not be easy.

While I knew James when he was with New Action from 1995-2003, we became closer when ICE was founded in 2003 and James, who was a UFT Exed Bd member since 1995, ran on the ICE-PAC/TJC* slate in 2004 and was elected, along with Jeff Kaufman and Barbara Kaplan-Halpert (who died not long ago). Thus James served for a dozen years on the UFT Exec Bd, a consistent voice for those opposing Unity policy. He and Jeff were a dynamic duo. 

*TJC and ICE ran completely separate slates except for the high schools where each group cross-endorsed 3 HS candidates and won.

With the retiree chapter election coming, Retiree Advocate had expected James to play a major role during the election and especially if we win, as a member of the RTC Exec Bd. We thought of running him as a delegate to honor him and leave a blank seat but decided it would not be appropriate. But if we do win, it will be so sad him not being there with us after so many decades of struggle with him.

There's no way for me to describe my 25-year relationship with James, which was at times contentious, including some yelling. But no disagreement ever stuck beyond a few minutes. In the past few years we had a running joke about how we were both lunatics for putting so much time into union activities after we retired. We were addicted to the union action, though he didn't always have as much fun as I did. When things for the opposition were at their bleakest and we thought of an alternative to our addiction, we would just say, "Time to go play some gold." Sometimes after a particular trying time he would call and just say "Golf?" By the way, neither of us could play golf. If I ever do get over my UFT drug habit, without James this may be sooner than later,  and go play golf, I will think of not having James there with me.


One of many memories: Our NYSUT adventure -

Powerful speeches in the glory days of MORE. (One day I will tell the entire story in my memoirs.


Jeff Kaufman posted on the ICE blog:

In Loving Memory of James Eterno

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague, James Eterno, on February 6, 2024. James was a cherished member of our community, and his absence will be deeply felt.

James’ life was marked by his unwavering dedication to education and his tireless advocacy for teachers and students alike. His contributions to the ICE-UFT blog have been invaluable, and his insights and wisdom will be sorely missed.

In honor of James’ memory, we would like to invite all who knew him to share their anecdotes and memories of James. Whether it’s a story that makes you smile, a lesson he taught you, or simply a sentiment about what James meant to you, we welcome your contributions.

Please submit your anecdotes and memories to Jeff Kaufman at Jeff will be compiling these tributes and sharing them on the ICE-UFT blog, as a testament to the remarkable impact James had on all of us.

In these difficult times, let us come together to remember James, to celebrate his life, and to carry forward the values and principles he held dear.

Thank you for your contributions. Your words will help keep James’ spirit alive in our hearts and in our community.

With deepest sympathy,

Jeff Kaufman

Lydia Howrilka, who has been like a rock to the family, already has posted: My memories of James Eterno

1 comment:

LeRoy Barr said...

James was an advocate for this Union and its members as well as a family man. His memory will live on. Peace and blessings to Camille and the Eterno family.
LeRoy Barr - UFT Secretary