Editor’s Note: Here are the excerpts of the remarks President Saunders delivered Thursday at a Paul Booth celebration at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Paul died Jan. 17, 2018, at age 74. To learn more about Paul’s life and legacy, go here.
Paul was a proud trade unionist, an organizer’s organizer, a gifted coalition-builder, and so much more.
He got an early start as an activist, mobilizing for peace and justice when he was barely out of his teens. Today, as I watch so many young people organizing to stop gun violence, I know how inspired Paul would be by their passion and fearlessness. And if you look really close, you can see them standing on Paul’s narrow but sturdy shoulders.
Paul was an idealist, but also a pragmatist. He was interested in results and outcomes as much as principles and manifestos. He believed in institutions and their capacity to make change. And no institution benefitted more from Paul’s gifts than AFSCME.
It’s impossible to summarize everything Paul meant to AFSCME, and everything AFSCME meant to Paul. He was with our union for just about half of its entire existence. And there aren’t many people in our history who contributed more to our growth and strength, to our diversity and vitality. No one fought harder, or more effectively, for the rights and freedoms of public service workers.
He always pushed us – and pushed me – to be bolder and better. He and I grew up in the union together. He was a great and trusted colleague. He was a faithful friend, a mentor, a brother.
When I think about Paul – which I’ve been doing a lot these last three months – I find myself reflecting both on his professional accomplishments and his personal character.
In fact, the one really can’t be separated from the other. Paul was great because Paul was good. Paul’s values – his belief in a more decent society – could be seen in his personal interactions, in the way he treated everyone. He loved humanity, and he also loved people.
He stood out for his leadership, his vision and his strategic savvy … but just as importantly for his decency, his integrity and his humility.
Some in his position would be brash and overbearing, but Paul was patient and unassuming. He was a big deal, but he didn’t have a big ego.
And no one was more generous with his time and his knowledge. He relished his role as a teacher and trainer. You could probably fill this synagogue two or three times with all the people who were mentored by Paul.
At his retirement party last year, Paul talked about how lucky he felt – lucky to be a part of AFSCME, lucky to learn from leaders like Jerry McEntee, lucky to do such meaningful work for so long in the labor movement and the progressive movement, lucky to have such a loving family.
The thing is, Paul: For everything you brought to our lives, our union, and our movement, I think we were the lucky ones.
Paul Booth and his wife, Heather. Photo Credit: Family-provided Photo