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Remembering USW Leader Brian Wade, a ‘True Friend to So Many’

Andy O’Brien
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We are saddened to hear of the passing of former USW 1069 President Brian Wade, 65, on Saturday, February 3 with his family by his side. In a Facebook post his son, Travis Wade, announced his father’s death.

“He was a selfless husband, father, brother, friend, millworker, union president, high school football referee. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model,” wrote Wade. “He fought courageously to live right until the end. He was thankful for everyday. He never left 'I love you' unsaid.” 

According to his obituary, Brian was born September 19, 1958 in Portland and graduated from Portland High School. He attended Southern Maine Technical College before starting a career at what is now Sappi Fine Paper in Westbrook, where he worked for 39 years. He was a dedicated union man, serving in various official capacities in his union, including as President and Vice President of United Steelworkers Local 1069.

“Brian was the embodiment of a local union leader. He really worked for his guys at the mill,” said Ron Rondeau, President of USW 1069. “You couldn’t find a nicer guy and I worked with him for forty years. It was a really big shock. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Rondeau recalled one time when one of their union brothers was dying of a terminal illness in the hospital. Under the pension plan, the survivor would be eligible to receive 50 percent of the pension if the worker died before he or she retired, but Brian made sure the spouse got the full pension.

“Brian went to bat for him and he got the HR people to come and sign his retirement papers so he could give his spouse 100 percent of his pension,” said Rondeau. "That’s the type of thing he would do.”

Brian was also a youth and high school football referee for over 20 years, once famously calling pass interference on his own son, according to his obituary. He met his wife, Celeste, in 1984 and they married in 1985. They lived and raised their two sons, Jason and Travis in Portland.

“I worked with many dedicated people throughout the Labor Movement and I counted Brian as one of the most dedicated among them,” said retired USW staff rep. Duane Lugdon. “He loved life and knew its value. I am so sorry that he has left us but I know that he is all about rekindling old friendships, and building new ones as well, while watching over his family from Heaven. Brian will long be remembered and dearly missed.”

In 2007, Brian was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and received a heart transplant on Valentine's Day in 2016. Brian, his friends and family were grateful to his donor, Manny Lopes' and his family, for giving him nearly eight more years of life. In this beautiful videoBrian met Lopes’ family and thanked them for giving him the gift of life.

“Brian had a new lease on life and was grateful for Manny and his sacrifice every day,” his obituary continued. “Post transplant Brian fought courageously to live right until the end. He became a volunteer and poster boy for New England Donor Services sharing his and Manny's story to raise awareness and promote organ donation."

Brian went on to finish his career at the mill and retired in 2022. In his retirement, he worked as a delivery driver for an auto parts store a few days a week. It wasn’t a unionized store, but he would often mediate when there was a conflict or an employee screwed up and took a vehicle where it wasn’t supposed to go, said Rondeau.

In his final selfless act before he died, Brian had his healthy liver donated to another man who desperately needed one. That man and his family received a special phone call of hope, just Like Brian received eight years ago.

“Brian was a true friend to so many. Genuine and honest as any man comes,” wrote USW labor representative Mike Higgins. “Even when he was sick prior to his transplant, he was always thinking about and helping others. A true loss to all who knew him.”