Former SIU, AMO Official Gordon Spencer Dies at 86


February 2012


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Gordon W. Spencer, former SIU port agent and a founder of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO), died Dec. 21 at his home in Virginia Beach, Va., following a brief illness. He was 86.


Those who knew him described Spencer as an effective champion of maritime labor, whether working on the waterfront, at the union hall or on Capitol Hill.


SIU President Michael Sacco recalled working with Spencer on several organizing drives.


“Gordon was one of the best organizers we ever had,” the SIU president stated. “I knew him when he was our port agent in Norfolk, Va. He was a great union guy all the way around, but his forte was organizing – he could really get his message across.


“He did an outstanding job, too, in lobbying for AMO,” Sacco continued. “He was one of the originals, and he’ll be sorely missed.”


A native of Australia, Spencer sailed in the Norwegian and U.S. merchant fleets during World War II. He subsequently was enlisted by the late SIU President Paul Hall to help form the Brotherhood of Marine Engineers as an SIUNA affiliate in the late 1940s. (The BME eventually became the AMO.)


Spencer successfully organized members in the inland and deep sea fleets, and also helped secure contracts with groundbreaking benefits for boatmen. He eventually became the executive vice president and secretary-treasurer of AMO (then known as District 2 of the MEBA).


He switched hats in the mid-1970s and helped lead the growth of the union’s legislative outreach in Washington, D.C.


“Gordon Spencer was in Washington with Paul Hall and (the late AMO/District 2 President) Ray McKay during the battles for the Cargo Preference Act of 1954 and the PL-480 Food for Peace program that same year,” AMO National President Tom Bethel said. “He made a compelling case for U.S. merchant ships carrying government cargoes in the interests of national security and diplomatic dividend, and American merchant mariners remain at work today because of the work Gordon Spencer did on these issues 58 years ago.”


Bethel also credited Spencer for helping preserve U.S. maritime jobs in the mid-1990s, both by defending the Jones Act and by helping advance legislation that led to the creation of the Maritime Security Program. He described Spencer as “one of the most respected and most well-liked figures on Capitol Hill.”


Spencer’s survivors include his wife, two daughters and three grandchildren. A memorial service took place Dec. 29 at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church. Memorial contributions may be made to Potter’s House Ministry at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church, 212 Nineteenth Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451. Condolences may be offered to the family at



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