Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

December 17, 1999

RON FORTUNE, retired executive secretary-treasurer of the Portland-based Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, has added to his list of honors a niche in Labor's Hall of Fame. He was selected by its sponsor, the Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

Fortune, 63, of Gresham, retired in May 1998 after serving 13 years as the leader of the four-county metro area labor council.

The youngest of seven siblings, Ronald Edward Fortune was born in Chicago in 1936. He described his father as "a coal miner, street sweeper, truck driver, carpenter, and a good union man." In 1947 most of the family moved to Newberg, in Yamhill County west of Portland, at the urging of an older son who'd become the owner of a drive-in hamburger stand there.

RON'S FATHER also went into the food service business, starting a restaurant in Newberg, where Ron washed dishes while attending high school. While still in Newberg High, Fortune found a job in a Hudson House nut plant and joined his first union, the Teamsters. His next job was in a Newberg paper mill where he joined the Pulp Workers. In 1956, Fortune took a temporary job as a clerk in a Safeway store in Hillsboro that evolved into a career. Employment at Safeway brought him into Portland Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092, for which he became a business representative in 1969. In that job he also served as a trustee of the Oregon Retail Employers Pension Trust Fund and as a trustee of the health and welfare insurance trust fund, posts that involved stewardship of millions of dollars. Local 1092 is now part of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555.

Fortune was elected as the leader of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC) in 1985 to succeed his longtime Local 1092 colleague, Lon Imel, who earlier had moved from the union's business agent staff to the labor council job. Imel retired from the council to move temporarily to Hawaii because his wife Diane's doctor thought a change in climate would be beneficial to her health. Fortune successfully pursued Imel's merger goals for NOLC by persuading the labor councils of Columbia and Clackamas counties to join the Portland-based metro area central body.

IN FORTUNE'S 13 YEARS as its leader, the NOLC set up a panoply of programs, including the Labor History Committee, the Retirees Council, Labor in the Schools, Saturn/Labor Community Service Agency partnership, the Labor Bowl Challenge for Muscular Dystrophy, and the Business, Union and Legislative Leaders (BULL) Session Golf Tournament to raise money for children's charities. And he continued the popular Labor Day picnics at Blue Lake Park and later Oaks Park, which Imel had started as part of a nationwide program urged by the national American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to show labor solidarity when workers and unions were under attack by Republican President Ronald Reagan.

As a feature of his activity on behalf of political candidates endorsed by the Committees on Political Education of NOLC and the national and state AFL-CIOs, Fortune encouraged congressional and senatorial candidates and office-holders to hire knowledgeable and politically-savvy union members as staffers to function in labor liaison capacities.

Machinist John Petroff had pioneered the congressional labor liaison concept in the early 1980s in joining the staff of Ron Wyden when the Portland Democrat was first elected as the U.S. representative for Oregon's Third Congressional District. Imel, after he and his wife returned to the Portland area, became Democratic U.S. Representative Les AuCoin's labor liaison in the First District.

ANOTHER FACET OF FORTUNE'S political activity agenda was scheduling labor breakfasts at the Kirkland Union Manors' dining room in southeast Portland with various office-holders, including Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Senator Wyden, and Republican Senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood before they left office, plus others. The events, attended by dozens of unionists, offered an opportunity for labor people to hear elected politicians explain their views on issues facing the state and nation, and to question the government officials about matters of concern to workers.

In his years as labor's foremost figure in the extended Portland metropolitan area, Fortune served on numerous boards and commissions. Governor Kitzhaber appointed him to the Oregon Economic Development Commission. When Bud Clark was the Rose City's mayor, he named Fortune to the Portland Leadership Roundtable. Fortune also served on the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette Executive Board, and chaired Labor's Community Service Agency's board. Within the labor movement, Fortune was a long-serving member of the Oregon AFL-ClO's Executive Board.

Fortune still functions as a member of the METRO regional government's Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission by appointment of METRO Executive Mike Burton, a former Democratic state representative. MERC is a seven-member panel that oversees various public facilities including Civic Stadium, Oregon Convention Center, Performing Arts Center and the Expo Center.

FORTUNE'S RECORD of leadership won him the 1998 Union Member of the Year Award given by the Northwest Labor Press' parent company, the union-owned, non-profit Oregon Labor Press Publishing Company.

Ron wasn't the only Fortune to hold a leadership post in the labor movement. An older brother, Dan, was elected president of Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092 in 1973. He died of cancer in December 1974. Another of Ron's older brothers, Charles, who'd remained in Chicago, became an international representative for the United Auto Workers.

ONE OF RON'S enjoyments in retirement is having more time to spend with his family. He and his wife of 42 years, the former Kathleen Fugere, have five daughters, two sons and 16 grandchildren. He is active in St. Henry's Catholic Church and works regularly at a Gresham soup kitchen for the needy in which his church participates.

Since retiring, Fortune has spent time tracing the Fortune clan's roots. Originally, they came from Ireland, and he's found that his paternal grandfather was born in Nova Scotia on Canada's eastern extremity, and grew up to become a coal miner there.

When he has time, Fortune plays golf with other labor retirees.


LAWRENCE A. "SLIM" HOLLEY of LaCenter, Wash., a retired international president of the Aluminum Workers, died Dec. 2 at age 75.

Holley, who began working in the aluminum industry in a mill in Vancouver, Wash., after World War II, was active in his local union and the labor council in southwest Washington. He was elected international union president in 1977 and served at the union's headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., until his retirement in 1985. The union also represents brick, glass and clay makers.

He acquired his nickname of Slim because of his height, well over six feet. Holley was born in Elkhart, Ind., on Nov. 7, 1924 and served in the U.S. Army In World War II. He married Joyce R. Reed in 1947. She died two years ago.

After he retired from the union, he returned to his farm in LaCenter.

Survivors include his daughter, Claudia J. Long of LaCenter; a brother, Richard of Norfolk, Va.; a sister, Doris Robinson of Elkhart; two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His funeral was held Dec. 6 with interment at LaCenter Cemetery under the auspices of Hamilton and Mylan Funeral Home. A memorial service was conducted Dec. 9 at American Legion Post 14 in Vancouver.


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