All of us in the labor movement who have battled for decades to secure healthcare for all Americans deeply mourn the passing of one of our dearest colleagues, Marilyn Clement. She will be sorely missed, not only because of her leadership in our struggle for healthcare justice, but also because of her warm, personal demeanor and deep commitment to being a voice for the underprivileged and downtrodden.

I met Marilyn a few years ago in Washington, D.C. when she approached me and asked me to be one of the three co-chairs of a fledgling new organization called “Healthcare NOW!” Her idea was to form an organization of progressives that would help drive the fight for universal, single-payer healthcare, beginning with a major legislative push on HR 676, a bill sponsored by Rep. Conyers (D- MI).

She didn’t care that George W. Bush was president, or that there was not a lot of money to build a new organization. She didn’t care that many said she couldn’t make this new group viable and important. She didn’t care that many scoffed at the very notion of healthcare reform.

In true Marilyn Clement fashion, she knew what she was doing was right and no one was going to dissuade her from her objective. I could never have said “no” to Marilyn – that was just something that was not an option for some reason. I quickly agreed to join her efforts as a co-chair and United Steelworkers (USW) members across the U.S. also joined in this new group as it progressed. In my opinion, because of Marilyn’s tireless efforts, Healthcare NOW! has
become the premier grassroots organization in this fight.

It is a great tragedy that Marilyn didn’t get to see the culmination of this fight for national healthcare and celebrate the passing of HR 676. However, I know she has received her just reward, and is now smiling down on all of us with the pride she always felt at knowing we were standing up, fighting back and at the cusp of victory.

I also am quite sure that before she entered heaven’s gates, she pressed St. Peter to either sign a petition or write a check – and no doubt he couldn’t have said no either!

The USW joins with the family and other friends of Marilyn Clement in mourning her passing and rededicating ourselves to the work at hand. May she forever be remembered as a kind, compassionate leader who never tired of doing right.

Leo W. Gerard is the International President of the United Steelworkers.