It is with sadness that we report that a 37 year member of SEIU-West has passed away after an eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Deb Blakley was the Vice-Chair of the Parkside Extendicare Unit in Regina.
Bob Desjarlais, the Union Representative who works with our members at Parkside, has allowed us to publish his eulogy that he gave at Deb’s memorial service on May 15, 2014.
Good afternoon Sisters and Brothers, Family and Friends. My name is Bob Desjarlais, I am a Staff Representative of SEIU-West, Deb’s Union. I bring greetings and condolences from our President Barbara Cape as well as the more then thirteen thousand Women and Men who have made SEIU-West their Union.
A union steward, is defined as an employee of an organization or company, who represents and defends the interests of her/his fellow employees but who is also labour union official. Rank and file members of the union hold this position voluntarily while maintaining their role as an employee of the firm. As a result, the union steward becomes a significant link and conduit of information between the union leadership and rank-and-file workers.
Deb epitomized this definition and so much more. I have been asked to keep this light, a difficult task, the fact is I miss Deb. In my short tenure with SEIU-West I have had the pleasure of working with some great Unit Reps like Linda Waffle and Deb Blakely at Parkside Extendicare. It was quite common for me to come into my office on any given morning and check my messages and pick up a couple from Deb. Invariably I would get a message from Deb “Bob…call me I’ve got a problem, it’s Deb”. So I would always call her and we’d chat about a situation that was happening in her workplace. I usually listened while Deb did the talking:}. Part way through the conversation she would stop and ask me “did you get my fax???? I faxed you four grievances this morning”.
Meanwhile I’d made the assumption we were chatting about whether we were going to file a grievance. Deb had already made that determination now it was my job to win the grievance. Dealing with Deb, I always felt like she was the Staff Rep and I was her assistant.
Deb was always meticulous with her note taking, we won a lot of grievances based on her ability to capture the conversations at meetings and use those notes in reference to other grievances. There was a fire in Deb’s belly that you don’t see in every Union Activist. She cared passionately about her co workers, if she felt one of her members was treated unfairly, she was unrelenting in her desire to correct the perceived wrong. In meetings with management she conducted herself professionally, never a raised voice or a harsh word, but always on point and looking for answers. It was an honour to have her as a colleague.
I attended a fund raiser on behalf of Deb, the place was packed, a testament to how people felt about Deb. I want to thank all those who assisted in putting that event together, in particular I wish to publicly thank Parkside Extendicare for the role they played in that event. Deb was visibly moved by the love in that room. I had the opportunity that night to have a quick chat with Deb. We did what we always did, before we spoke we gave each other a big hug, she whispered in my ear” thanks for coming Bob, I will fight this to the end”. A little while later Deb delivered a speech that humbled the room. With her typical class and grace she thanked everyone for coming and made it crystal clear she had no intention of slipping quietly away, she would fight this to her last breath.
I believe Deb is with us today, whether you believe that or not it is a personal decision. No one can dispute the fact that all of us who knew Deb will carry a little bit of her with us for the rest of our lives. She made us all better human beings, I am honoured to have known her.