Editor’s note: From top to bottom, the photos accompanying this story show Tom Soresi holding his grandson; standing behind the old New York hall in November 1963; and with his son, SIU VP Joseph Soresi, at an MTD meeting.
In many ways, Chief Bosun Tommy Soresi embodied the most dedicated SIU members of his era. Physically tough but with a heart of gold, he devoted decades to the advancement of both the union and its affiliated school in Piney Point, Md.
Soresi passed away June 22 at age 70, following a heart attack. A Staten Island, N.Y.-area resident and a native of nearby Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, he had retired November of last year.
Apart from his time with the SIU, he was a motorcycle enthusiast – and, most of all, enjoyed spending time with his family and especially his grandson, Thomas, his namesake.
The emotional reactions to Soresi’s death from union officials and fellow rank-and-file members reflected his popularity and respect. A familiar figure on northeastern shore gangs, at SIU and Maritime Trades Department meetings, and in Piney Point during the school’s earliest days, Soresi was a mainstay with the union since 1961.
Tom’s son, Joseph, is vice president of the union’s Atlantic District.
Remembering his father, Joseph stated, “He was the greatest guy in the world. Everything I am today is because of him. I will miss him more each day.”
Tom Soresi was a longtime confidant of SIU President Michael Sacco.
“We worked together in New York for a number of years, on and off the waterfront,” Sacco said. “We were in a lot of beefs together. He was a good friend and a good family man who loved life. Tommy was a good union man and he definitely will be missed.”
SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez remembered working closely with Soresi “since 1978, when I was hired in New York and he was the chief bosun at the Sea-Land shore gang. We were together on numerous assignments throughout the country and Tom’s true colors always showed through. He was an SIU man from head to toe, a real standup guy and truly a man’s man. He came up at a time when the waterfront was a more rough-and-tumble place and he could come off as a big grizzly bear. He was serious when called for, but also funny, warm and generous. In truth he was a big teddy bear with a big heart that ironically finally gave out. He was my friend and brother and l will miss him terribly.”
Assistant Vice President Nick Celona recalled, “I go back with Tommy a long time, from when I was shipping out in Brooklyn as a young kid. I had just come out of Piney Point and first met him at the union meetings. We always got along really well, and I always admired him. As the years progressed, we continued working together. I have fond memories of Tommy as a good, solid SIU union man. He was very kind to me.”
Fellow shore gang Bosun John Cain said he “was crazy about Tommy. The shore gang was Tommy; he made it what it is. He was one of the icons of the union.”
Close friend and fellow Seafarer John Natoli knew Soresi for nearly 50 years.
“We had a lot of good times and he’s a guy I’m really going to miss,” Natoli said. “He was a great guy. Even after he retired, I talked to him every day or at least every other day. I just can’t believe he’s gone.”
After spending his early years with the union sailing, Soresi was one of the first people assigned to Piney Point when the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship was being built, starting in 1967. (The overall campus was renamed the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in the early 1990s.)
In a 2007 interview about the school’s founding, Soresi spoke in terms and tones that typified him: He wasn’t complaining, but he didn’t sugarcoat the experience. He and many others who were on hand in the late 1960s usually spent seven days a week performing physically demanding tasks.
“We worked very hard and very long,” Soresi told a reporter for the Seafarers LOG. “I really don’t know how all of us hung in there…. I came to Piney Point from Brooklyn and it was like a no-man’s land.”
But, he added, the vision of the late SIU President Paul Hall paid off.
“It was hard work, but we had a lot of faith in his leadership and in the leadership of our other union officials,” Soresi said in the same interview. “It wasn’t a very gratifying job at that time, but later on, when you saw what you helped develop, it all worked out.”
Soresi’s survivors include his wife of 47 years, Barbara; his daughter, Justine; his son, Joseph; his daughter-in-law, Joanne; and his grandson, Thomas.
SIU headquarters and regional officials and members were on hand to pay their respects during the memorial services in late June.