Labor icon recalled for her passion


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

Friends and family of labor icon Ah Quon McElrath gathered yesterday not only to remember the “;fire in her voice,”; but also to continue her life's work in fighting for social justice and labor rights.

“;Don't mourn, organize,”; attorney Christopher Conybeare told the hundreds in attendance. “;It's more important now than ever to come together and think about what people are able to achieve when it looked like there was no hope. We need her words now.”;

It was a common message among all the speakers during the gathering at the ILWU building on Atkinson Drive.

However the crowd could not help but shed tears when her 91-year-old “;baby brother”; Ah Nee Leong sang an a capella rendition of “;The Impossible Dream (The Quest).”;

“;I think it might epitomize AQ's passion for hard work, for social justice,”; Leong said.

McElrath's oldest child, Gail Long, gave many personal details of her mother's life. She said her mother was “;such a cynic”; that she was not going to vote this year until Long persuaded her.

“;She was able to live to see Barack Obama elected,”; Long said. “;Now I'm sure she'd be in his face about all the things he's already done.”;

McElrath spent most of her career as a social worker for the ILWU. She retired in 1981, but pushed on frequenting the halls of the Legislature and taking to the streets.

She worked for causes as diverse as saving the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, affordable housing and universal health care.

“;I've never met a more powerful person,”; said University of Hawaii President David McClain.

McElrath served as a UH regent. She also graduated from the university.

“;She was relentless, and she taught us all the value of educating yourself so you can change the world,”; he said. “;Every day in the university we try to provide a transformational experience. Ah Quon has certainly made a difference in our world.”;