Tony Sacco, a former SIU official and longtime inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), unexpectedly passed away at his home in Leland, North Carolina, on Feb. 27. He was 55.
The son of SIU President Michael Sacco, Tony spent 20-plus years with the union (first as a rank-and-file member, then later as an official) before dedicating his last 15 years to the ITF. He also was an active volunteer and member of the board of directors at the International Seamen’s Center (ISC) of Wilmington, North Carolina.
“Tony was a very popular inspector amongst his inspector colleagues,” noted SIU Secretary- Treasurer David Heindel, who is also an ITF official. “He gave all of himself in defending the rights of mariners, whether they were American or foreign. He was instrumental in obtaining pay for seafarers on a number of occasions when their shipowners abandoned them.”
SIU Vice President West Coast Nick Marrone stated, “I’ve known Tony for most of his adult life. He was always a true friend, a lifelong friend and someone you could trust. He was always there to help when you needed him. He was compassionate, understanding and a giver. I have fond memories to hold onto and I’m grateful for that.”
ITF Coordinator Ricky Esopa said, “I’m very saddened by Tony’s passing. I talked with him several times a week. Tony had a huge, generous heart whether he was working with seafarers or just anyone he knew when they were in a time of need. There are a great number of mariners that owe him a lot of gratitude for his heartfelt assistance. I have received a tremendous amount of sympathy messages for his family from ITF inspectors around the world. He will be missed by all of us and I will certainly miss talking with him every week.”
Cary Newman, board chairman of the ISC of Wilmington, described Tony as “a dear friend and dedicated leader of the International Seamen’s Center. He was always ready to do whatever needed to be done and was fully committed to the wellbeing of the thousands of mariners who passed through Wilmington, Moorhead City and Charleston every year. His absence here on Earth will be forever felt, but heaven is a better place for his presence.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter to Michael Sacco, “Please accept my deepest condolences. While I know the loss of a child – no matter his age – leaves a hole in your heart that can never truly be filled, I hope you are able to find some comfort in the love he shared for you and the memories you cherished together. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Sophie (Sacco, Tony’s mother), your family, and all those who knew and loved Tony. He will be dearly missed.”
Tony’s siblings (brother John Sacco and sisters Valerie Moore, Angela Baker and Anne Marie Fry) shared a poem that reflected some of their emotions:
You gave no one a last farewell, nor ever said goodbye.
You were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why.
A million times we will miss you.
A million times we will cry.
If love alone could have saved you, you never would have died.
In life we loved you dearly.
In death we love you still.
In our hearts you hold a place no one else can fill.
It broke our hearts to lose you, but you didn’t go alone.
For part of us went with you, the day God took you home.
We will meet again someday, I know in a better place.
I thank God He made you our brother
While you were here on earth.
Bonnie Sacco-Meyer, who was married to Tony years ago, said, “Tony died too soon. I have a blessed life, and I would be remiss if I didn’t credit him with (helping me become) the person I am. With his huge, generous heart, he taught me how to show love, to appreciate and respect family, friends and strangers. Through Danielle (Johannes, their daughter) we have a bond, one that cannot be erased through miles, years, circumstances or even death. Tony gave me the greatest gift, our daughter, and he will always remain in my heart.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Tony worked at the SIU-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, as a young teenager in 1976 and 1977. He then completed the trainee program and shipped out in the summer of 1977.
Tony continued to sail until 1988, earning his third mate’s license along the way. He sailed in the deck department with one exception: his very first vessel, the Sea-Land Boston, on which he was a wiper.
Tony came ashore to work for the union in 1988, when he served as an SIU representative in St. Louis and then became the port agent there. He was transferred to the union’s headquarters building near the nation’s capital in 1990, when he was appointed as an assistant vice president.
Tony was elected as an assistant vice president in 1992. He served in that position until 1996, when he returned to sailing in the deck department of SIU-crewed ships and tugboats.
After pursuing other interests until 2001, Tony became an inspector for the ITF, a global organization that protects mariners’ rights. He helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages for foreign crews. He also helped bring many ships under ITF contract, which further enhanced the working conditions and wages of seafarers.
Tony leaves behind his parents, Michael and Sophie Sacco; his brother, John; his sisters, Valerie Moore, Angela Baker and Anne Marie Fry; his daughter Danielle Johannes; and his step-son, Shawn Kelly. His funeral mass and burial took place in Jacksonville, North Carolina.