Home News Local news Labor Leader Ralph Mandrew Gets a Hero's Farewell

Labor Leader Ralph Mandrew Gets a Hero's Farewell

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Jan. 13, 2007 — A memorial service was held Saturday for a man some called the Martin Luther King of the Virgin Islands. Ralph T. Mandrew, labor leader and activist for the disadvantaged, was praised for years of service that touched the lives of many.
"He was a tireless advocate for the working class," said Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis. "We have indeed lost a hero."
Mandrew, who died Dec. 14 after a long illness, came to St. Croix in 1977 to organize exploited hotel workers. He had already made a name for himself organizing workers' unions in New York City. He would spend more than 25 years in the Virgin Islands organizing private and government unions. He became president of the Central Labor Council and the V.I. Workers Union. In 1998 Mandrew was awarded the island's highest honor, the Governor's Medal of Freedom, for his contribution to the enhancement of working men and women. He was awarded the Lifetime Service award by then-Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards just months before his death.
The Friedensfeld Moravian Church in Estate Mon Bijou was comfortably packed with friends and family who wanted to give final farewells to Mandrew.
Several St. Croix labor leaders spoke about Mandrew's influence on their lives.
"He gave me guidance and pointed me in the way I needed to go," said Naomi Joseph, president of the St. Croix Police Benevolent Association. "He was a really humble and great man."
Former Senator Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal said she got to know Mandrew when she was chair of the senate Labor committee: "When I did good he applauded me, and when I did bad he let me know."
Former Senator Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said she stood side by side with Mandrew several times when he stood up for workers rights at several hotels on the island.
"Things are quiet now, but then things were not so quiet," Hansen said. "You needed someone to speak up for you."
One of Mandrew's most "treasured memories" was when he marched with the late Dr. Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy in 1963, said former Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards. A former labor leader himself, Richards recounted how, in 1986, Mandrew organized government workers to walk off the job and shut down the government. Mandrew also organized homeowners in Estate Mon Bijou whose homes were built in a floodplain.
"He came to this community not knowing anybody and left knowing everybody," Richards said. "He was a giant of a man."
Several speakers commented on Mandrew's distinctive speaking style. "He would drag his words out for emphasis," Richards said. Some said he reminded them of King.
Other speakers included Eddy Charles, adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard, and local union presidents Luis "Tito" Morales, Gerard "Jerry" Jackson, Tyrone Molyneaux and Fred Joseph. Also present was former Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin.
Many attendees carried copies of Mandrew's autobiography, The Unrelenting Struggle, published in 2006. Some leafed through the pages during the service. The book recounts Mandrew's life from his birth in the fishing village of Five Islands, Antigua, to his life as a migrant farm worker and hotel employee through his career as a labor leader.
Mandrew "led a life worth living," said attorney Lorin Kleeger. "He understood the power of unity. It's no easy walk to freedom; you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to reach the mountaintop."
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