An iconic figure in SIU history passed away late last year.
Retired Port Agent Bobby Selzer, 78, died Nov. 6 after fighting health problems for many months. The Brooklyn, New York, resident served the union for 56 years before calling it a career in late 2016.
SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez knew Selzer very well.
“People remember him yelling all the time, but beneath that exterior, as you could tell from all of the Facebook posts after he died, he was a generous person who cared about the members,” Tellez stated. “Whatever it involved – whether it was money, or getting people into the school, or convincing someone to take an LNG job – he was always helping people. That was the real Bobby.”
Tellez added that despite his long and very active career, Selzer shied away from publicity. For example, he rarely appeared in the union newspaper.
“Because of changes in our society, a guy like him won’t come around again,” Tellez concluded.
Selzer joined the union in 1960. In addition to sailing, the New York native later wore several hats, including working for the Seafarers LOG and as the creator and supervisor of an in-house print shop – but he is best remembered as the port agent in Brooklyn (and later in Jersey City, New Jersey). Selzer held the port agent post from 1984 until retirement.
“Bobby was a true labor leader,” said SIU Vice President Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi. “He only cared about the well-being of the membership and the union that he worked for. He taught me a lot about the history of the SIU and how to carry myself as a union official. I’ll always be grateful for all the knowledge he passed on to me. He will be missed.”
SIU Assistant Vice President Nick Celona recalled that when he first went to the hall after completing the trainee program in 1977, “Bobby was at the counter. I introduced myself and he was very kind to me – professional, but always very kind. He explained everything to me.
“Whenever I got off of a ship, he was always someone I could count on to take the time to ask how the trip was,” Celona continued. “He’d also encourage me to go back to Piney Point (home of the SIUaffiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education). He was like a guardian angel in those early years, and he became my friend, my brother. Periodically, I would call him over the years to see how he was doing.”
Current Jersey City Port Agent Mark von Siegel said, “Bobby was an old-school trade unionist, my mentor and teacher and a good friend to all of us. Bobby never had any children of his own, but all of us were his kids. He had the love and respect of countless SIU members, officials and retirees from across the country and all over the world. To this day, from time to time, all of us reminisce with admiration about Bobby and repeat some of his catchphrases like, “Look at my eyes,” “The house is covered,” and “Listen to your fat friend”. Anyone who knew him, knew that even though Bobby had a gruff exterior, he had a heart of gold. He would do anything in his power to help the membership. He was taught trade unionism by the very best and I feel very fortunate to have learned from him.”
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