Saturday, October 24, 2009

Larry McGurty: a tremendous life

Lawrence “Mac” McGurty passed away Oct. 9 at the age of 93. His life encompassed the major events and movements of the last century, many that he participated in as an activist rather than an observer.

Born in l915 to Estelle Raport McGurty and Edward McGurty in Pittsburgh, Pa., Lawrence’s parents were committed to the struggle for workers’ rights in the early years of the 20th century.

When his mother died at the age of 28, and his father was in a tuberculosis sanatorium, Lawrence was raised by his grandmother and aunt. He was raised as a Catholic, but later left the faith when he became active in industrial unionism during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Lawrence McGurty joined the U.S. Army in 1940 and fought in the Pacific from 1942-1945, being awarded three Bronze Stars. It was during his years of service that he met and married Mildred Davis of Memphis, Tenn. Mildred was the sister of William “Red” Davis, who was also a great fighter unionism, civil rights and peace. Mildred shared these same values. Their daughter, Mary, was born in 1943.

After the war, the McGurty family settled in Memphis. Larry worked on the Mississippi River, as a member of the National Maritime Union until red-baiting ended his and his brother-in-law’s days there. They both continued to work for unionism and racial equality.

In 1951, Lawrence and Mildred were very active in trying to save Willie McGee, an African American man from Mississippi who was to become a victim of legal lynching for the supposed rape of a white woman.

In 1957, Lawrence appeared before HUAC (House Committee on Un American Activities) -- for the second time—hounded for his beliefs and activities. Sen. James Eastland was the head of that particular committee, and the result was that all of Lawrence’s employment opportunities in the South came to an end. At the age of 42, he moved to Chicago, enrolled in college and became a teacher. He taught for 20 years, retiring in l981.

All of those years, he continued to work for union rights and representation, forming a successful teachers’ union chapter, which is still working for the rights of its members.

He and Mildred protested actively against the Vietnam War. He was in the l968 Democratic National Convention protest in Chicago, being tear-gassed in Grant Park with his nephew, Sam Davis.

Mildred passed away in 2001 and Lawrence continued working for the same causes on his own. Their generation has paved the way for the new one, which is working to improve the lives of all Americans in education, jobs and health care.

A memorial to celebrate Lawrence McGurty’s life will be held on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Beverly Unitarian Church, 10244 S Longwood Dr., in Chicago.

[The obit was sent in by his daughter and appears in the Oct. 24 print edition of People's World.

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