Training Vessel Named in Honor of John Fay

June 2010

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Some 200 union officials, dignitaries and guests gathered May 11 at the Piney Point, Md.-based and SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education to christen and dedicate a vessel to the memory of the union’s late Executive Vice President John F. Fay. Brother Fay passed away in 2005.

SIU President Michael Sacco headed the list of union officials who joined members of Fay’s family to pay tribute to John, who was lauded not only as a proud and loyal Seafarer, but also as a trusted friend and tireless leader. In addition to Sacco, the ceremony was attended by Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel and Vice Presidents George Tricker, Tom Orzechowski, Dean Corgey, Nick Marrone and Kermett Mangram. Also present were: Michael Desjardins, president, SIU of Canada; Roman Gralewicz, president emeritus, SIU of Canada; Orlando Gotay Jr. of the U.S. Maritime Administration; SIU Plans Administrator Margaret Bowen; Paul Hall Center Vice President Don Nolan; UIW National Director John Spadaro and a number of other officers, staff and trustees of the Paul Hall Center.

Fay family members in attendance included Mrs. Phyllis Fay, the late Brother Fay’s wife, who served as Godmother during the naming ceremony; sons John Fay Jr., SIU Electrician Michael Fay and Patrick Fay; daughter Kelly Fay; and grandchildren Kelly Fay, Patrick Fay, Shaina Fay and Shane Fay. Four of Brother Fay’s siblings also were in attendance: brothers Francis Fay and Charles Fay with wife Mary; and sisters Clarie Quinland and Cathrine Tompkins.

Following an inspirational invocation by Monsignor Karl Chimiak of St. George’s Catholic Church in Piney Point, Nolan welcomed those present and introduced the ceremony’s speakers. First to take the microphone was Anthony Naccarato, Paul Hall Center trustee.

Naccarato expressed his extreme delight with the school’s decision to name its new training vessel in honor of his good friend, the late John F. Fay.

“John was truly a wonderful person, a family man, a friend and outstanding labor leader,” he said. “He was not afraid to speak his mind, especially on behalf of those he swore to represent, but he was always a gentleman and he never made it personal.

“It is befitting to name a vessel that will train the next generation of seafarers, after a person that devoted his life to seafarers,” Naccarato continued. “It is inspiring to name a vessel that will teach discipline and self reliance, after a person who understood the value of duty and responsibility.

“It is appropriate to name a vessel that will teach men and woman the power and gratification gained from having the skills to earn an honest living, after a person that committed his life to the notion that every worker should be treated fairly and respectfully,” Naccarato said. “It is wonderful to name a vessel that will teach that there is dignity in a hard day’s work, after a person who understood the value of hard work.”

Paying his personal tribute to his departed friend, Naccarato said, “John, very few of us are chosen for greatness. You were among those chosen. You gave strength to those without power; hope to those in despair; and support to those who were abandoned.

“All of us are here today to celebrate the knowledge that you faithfully steered the course that He (God) set for you, and that you have now returned to your home port to receive your wellearned payoff for a job well done.

“As we navigate our own lives, we will use your commitment to others as our North Star and your amazing capacity for compassion as our infallible compass,” Naccarato continued. “This vessel will always be a symbol of the magnificent legacy you have left behind and may all who train aboard her be infused with the same humanity and affection that you always exhibited for your fellow man.

“John, my friend, may you rest in peace,” he concluded.

Heindel was next to address those in attendance. After expressing his appreciation for the chance to speak about an individual who meant so much to him personally and to the union as a whole, Heindel said, “John Fay was my mentor and my friend. He was someone I looked up to, and not just because of his towering height.

“John was as genuine as they come,” Heindel continued. “He had a knack for bringing people together for sensible compromise. He paid strict attention to every last detail, no matter the task.”

Heindel said that he knew Fay was not only a devoted family man, but also completely dedicated to the union, including the SIU-affiliated school in Piney Point. “He cared about the membership,” Heindel said. “He always stood up for the underdog. He
was always ready to lend a hand.”

Reflecting on Fay’s varied contributions to the union, Heindel offered, “John served our union in just about every capacity, first as a member and then as an official. He signed on with us a teenager and he never left. As a result, tens of thousands of mariners are better off than they would have been without John’s influence.”

Heindel described Fay’s impact on the SIU as extremely wideranging and included a huge body of crucial work that promoted the union’s international interests. “He started those efforts back in 1975, primarily with the International Maritime Organization, the International Labor Organization and the International Transport Workers’ Federation,” Heindel noted. “Fast forward 20 years to 1995, and John became the first American ever to serve as chairman of the ITF’s Seafarers’ Section. That was truly an historic ccomplishment…John’s work really did benefit all mariners, not just SIU members, or U.S. mariners. He opened a lot of new doors and he certainly helped amplify America’s voice in international maritime issues.

“I feel proud and humbled to follow in John’s footsteps, both in the international arena and as secretary-treasurer of the SIU,” Heindel concluded. “He gave so much guidance and insight that I really couldn’t go wrong. I’m grateful to have known him, and he will always be my friend.”

“It’s hard to believe almost five years have gone by since John passed away,” Sacco said as he addressed the audience, “but I can tell you beyond any doubt that his legacy continues, and his work on behalf of both the SIU and the school is still bearing fruit.”

Contemplating his relationship with Fay, Sacco said, “From the moment I became president of the SIU, John was someone I turned to, and someone I knew I could trust. Those were critical days for our organization, and it meant the world for me to have someone as loyal and honest and intelligent as John as my confidant.

“John wasn’t the kind of person who told people what they wanted to hear,” Sacco recalled. “He was the kind who told it like it was. He was a straight shooter and he loved the SIU to his very core. Having him as a sounding board was simply invaluable, and it helped me make better and stronger decisions.”

But Fay did much more than merely provide advice, Sacco said. “He devoted his life to our union and to our affiliated school here in Piney Point. He helped build our foundation and helped shape us into the well-respected, highly effective organization we remain today.

“John also did a particularly terrific job in promoting the U.S. Merchant Marine in the international arena,” Sacco said. “It’s not often you can point to one specific individual for this kind of credit, but the truth is that John performed groundbreaking work in helping solidify a strong, efficient, valued presence for the U.S. maritime industry in international affairs, particularly with our friends at the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

“When I think about John,” Sacco told the audience, “I think of someone who appreciated everything he had in life. And that’s because he earned all of it. John was a great leader whose strength and stability and loyalty to the SIU membership were second-to-none.

“I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with him, not just at the office or in the union halls or aboard ship but also on the road,” Sacco continued. “We got to know each other very well. John was a humble guy and he had a deliciously dry sense of humor – something I appreciated more and more as we traveled together.

“I think it’s most appropriate that we name this training vessel after our good friend and union brother, John Fay,” Sacco said. “While I think he would be uncomfortable with the attention, I know that this is a well-deserved honor for someone who cared about each and every person who sailed with the SIU.

“As the next generation of Seafarers learns and refines their skills aboard this boat, may they approach their opportunities with the same resolve, dignity and determination as the man for whom the vessel is named,” Sacco concluded.

Two of Fay’s sons—John Jr., an attorney from Louisiana, and Mike, an SIU electrician—also addressed ceremony attendees.

“On behalf of my mom, my brothers and my sister and me, we want to thank you for this great honor,” said John Jr. “It’s really touching for us to hear these things and to recognize how much my father meant to the union.”

John Jr. shared a story that he felt reflected the widespread bond of the “Brotherhood of the Sea.” The story involves his father’s SIU lapel pin, which he wears daily as a remembrance to his Dad.

“Ever since my Dad passed away, I’ve been wearing one of his pins.” John said. “Every day I put it on my suit and people would ask me what it was and what it was about. One day I was at a meeting at court and the judge recognized my pin as a Seafarers pin. The judge told me he had an uncle who once was in the Seafarers and that he was very close to him. The judge said that his uncle told him many stories about when he was at sea.”

Like himself, John Jr. said, the judge also had recently lost his own father. “We developed a bond,. So that night when I got home, I wrote the judge a note and sent him one of the Seafarers pins that the union had given to my father.”

When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast John Jr. and his family, like scores of other residents were forced to evacuate. “I left town with a pair of shorts and a Tshirt, and ended up having to buy a whole set of new suits while we were evacuated.,” he said.

“Two years later, during Hurricane Gustav, we were evacuating again and my wife said we’re not re-outfitting you again so she made me pack a couple of suits” he continued. “So I put my favorite suits, one of which had my pin on it, in a bag and evacuated to Nashville (Tennessee) where my son was in college.

“I never had to take the suits out of the bag and when Gustav passed we all went home,” he explained. Upon arriving back home in Louisiana and unpacking his car, John Jr. discovered that his suit bag was missing. “My suits and my father’s pin were gone,” he said.

Some two weeks later while attending the funeral of another judge, John Jr. said he saw the same judge to whom he earlier had given one of his dad’s union lapel pins. “When he saw that I was not wearing my pin, he asked me what happened to it.” John Jr. told him about the Gustav evacuation and the circumstances surrounding the apparent loss of his suits and more importantly, the loss of his father’s Seafarers union lapel pin.

“The next day when I got to my office, I had this note from the judge which I’d like to read because I think it really signifies and speaks volumes about what this organization means to the people who are in it and to their families,” he said. “The pin says Brotherhood of the Sea and as I put it on every day, I think about my dad and what the words really mean.

“The note (from the judge) is dated Feb. 12, 2009,” he continued. “It reads, Dear John… I simply could not abide by with the idea that I’m in possession of an SIU lapel pin given to me by you at the same time that the hurricane has deprived you of yours, particularly knowing the family importance it holds for you. My uncle, the late Fedele DiGiovanni — a proud SIU member, would want you to have it. Wear it with the same love and pride for your father that led you to give it to me in the first place. It belongs on your chest. Please accept its return with appreciation and respect for your kind gesture to me….”

To John Jr., it was this exchange between two men whose lives had been touched by members of the Seafarers, symbolized by the back and forth of the SIU pin, that brought home the union’s meaning and influence.

John Jr. continued, “The postscript to the story is that last year in June when my wife and I went back to Nashville for my son’s college graduation, my son asked, ‘Dad are you missing a couple of suits?’ Well, it turns out that the suits and my Dad’s pin, that were thought lost during the Hurricane Gustav evacuation, were in the back of my son’s dorm room closet. I had thought that the suits had been stolen out of the car on the ride home, but the suit bag was in his closet. So I got the suits back and I got my Dad’s SIU pin back.”

Like his brother, Mike extended his heartfelt thanks to everyone present for “…the honor you are affording my father today. I’m just so glad that my mom was able to be here today because you all know the sacrifices my dad made by being away from home and all,” he said. “But it was just as hard on my mom because she kept the house together in my dad’s absence. She did a wonderful job and I think this (the ship naming ceremony) is a great Mothers’ Day gift.

“I have my daughter here today and as everyone knows, she runs around the hotel like she owns it,” Mike continued. “I have to constantly stay on her, telling her to take it easy and slow down.”

Mike said the actions of his daughter make him “….think back to when I was her age back in 1968 or 1969 down here and it was me and my brothers and sisters running around in the old wooden hotel. Long before I knew what the SIU was or even what a union was, I knew this was our family,” he continued. “The people down here, we grew up together.

“This wasn’t just my dad’s job, it was his life and I think this is why we are dedicating this vessel,” Mike surmised. “He wasn’t retiring from here with a gold watch and plaque. You know, he is still here on the job,” he said as he looked toward the vessel which was docked nearby.

“My father, as important as he was – and I traveled with him – treated the kid mopping the floor with the same respect he afforded the president of a shipping company,” Mike said. “He was friendly to everybody, he never talked down to anybody and I’m trying to use all of that as a guide to live my life.”

“I want to thank Don Nolan and his staff here for everything. They are first class all the way,” Mike concluded. “You can come to that door any hour of the day, expected or unexpected and the staff always gives you their absolute best.”

With the conclusion of Mike’s remarks, Father Chimiak anointed and blessed the vessel. Moments later, Mrs. Fay officially christened it the MV John F. Fay. Rather than inaugurating the vessel with the traditional bottle of champagne, Mrs. Fay befittingly baptized it with a huge jug of Tabasco Sauce, one of her late husband’s favorite condiments.

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Brother Fay’s widow, Phyllis (right), received a framed photo of the state-of-the-art boat now bearing John’s name. Making the presentation are (from left) SIU Sec.-Treasurer David Heindel, Paul Hall Center VP Don Nolan and Seafarers Plans Administrator Maggie Bowen.

The MV John F. Fay
The MV John F. Fay