Stories that feature ‘Quentin Young’

Francoise

This story takes place in 1962. It was told on February 3rd, 2011 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Quentin Young had been my doctor since I went to him in 1958 with an eye problem that another doctor had been unable to deal with. Later he went on to greater glory, director of something important at Cook County Hospital, but when I met him he was just a family doctor with an office in the Hyde Park shopping center. Quentin was at a turning point of his own, in the midst of a divorce and trying to decide whether to join a group practice.

Kindred Hyde Park radicals, Quentin and I hit it off immediately. I thought he was a fascinating man. After he checked me over that first time we stayed in the office for several hours talking about politics and his marital troubles. Afterwards I thought I should have been the one to bill him.

This was probably no way to start off a doctor—patient relationship, but Quentin was my doctor from that day until I left Chicago decades later. For a couple of years I hardly ever saw him professionally. I would see him at the concerts a lot, and I saw him taking a growing role in the Medical Committee for Human Rights and the School Board struggle, but I was relatively healthy and I rarely had to go to his office.

Quentin hired a new nurse in 1962 named Francoise Nicolas, an extremely intelligent woman and a beautiful one as well, who had only recently immigrated from France. She was about my height, a little shorter, slender. Very soon after I met her at Quentin‘s office, I asked her to dinner at an ltalian restaurant on Rush Street, and we began dating.

Francoise had a fast, sharp tongue, but at the same time, she had a lot of heart. She spoke with a heavy French accent, which I kind of enjoyed. She was also a sick woman, and she didn’t know why. Even though she went about her life with an incredible amount of energy, Francoise seemed always to be getting colds. Her resistance was always weak, and during the brutal Chicago winters she was often ill.

Francoise was an angry premature feminist. She was extremely angry at her parents. Her younger sister had a Ph.D. in physics, her brother got a doctorate in agronomy, and she, as the eldest daughter, was programmed to be a nurse and get married. She became a nurse, got married, had three kids and lost her husband in a railroad accident the day they came to Chicago.

She stayed in Chicago because a lawyer misled her that she had a large case against the railroad, and that to protect herself and the kids she had to be here to pursue the claim. There was no case. The judge gave the three kids ten thousand between them, almost as a consolation prize. Meanwhile, she was in no position to get welfare, and her parents were unable to help her out.

She was instinctively a rebel and a freethinker, but not a radical in any strict sense. Her first exposure was to Quentin and his circle of Hyde Park progressives, so she heard all sorts of predictions that the machine would soon be destroyed, we‘d soon win the battle for civil rights, national health insurance was around the corner. She accepted all this at face value. When things didn’t turn out quite that way, she became a skeptic, and remained one the rest of her life.

Francoise always told me that it was her kids who had decided that she would marry me. She had gone out with one other guy before and had broken up with him because the kids didn’t like him. I was surprised to hear it, because I had always thought I’d make a better uncle than father. I didn’t treat them badly, but I didn’t I shmear over them either. I think I gave them a feeling of protection and security.

Eddie

This story takes place in 1974. It was told on March 18th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

It was a winter day late in 1974 when Quentin Young, my doctor and long-time friend, called me at my office to invite me to his office in Hyde Park. “You gotta meet this guy Eddie from the steelworkers,” he said.

The press had been following SadIowski’s struggle — happenings in the steelworkers union were big news in those days, especially around Chicago — and the chance to meet the man seemed interesting.

Of more interest was that Sadlowski had come out of US Steel’s South Works, the same plant I had worked in as a young man. I hadn’t thought about the place much for years, but I was suddenly curious what sort of stamp the place might have left on another man. Quentin had invited Bob Adams, another guy who had been in the mill as a young man. On the appointed evening, I was there.

The steelworkers’ union in the early 1970s could fairly be described as a huge system of interlocking fiefdoms, refereed from a skyscraper in Pittsburgh by I.W. Abel and his small circle of advisers. Abel’s men would pick Directors for the union’s 30-some districts, nominate them and then have them rubber-stamped by a membership vote.

Ed Sadlowski was a relatively small cog in this machine when he realized that he was fed up with the arrogance of the Abel group and that he would have to do something about it. With the help of a few younger unionists from Local 65 and some of the remaining progressives in the district, Ed had run for District Director and, he claimed, won.

The official vote, however, had Eddie losing by 2,000 votes. Eddie and his men were sure they had been “counted out,” and immediately lodged complaints with the courts and the National Labor Relations Board. Now Eddie was in the middle of a grueling round of fund-raising meetings to sustain his legal challenge.

Meanwhile, his position as a District 65 staffer, with the protection of the staff workers union, made the International afraid to fire him outright. He had used the position to emerge as the leading thorn in the side of the Steelworkers Union’s national leadership.

Ed Sadlowski was a burly, roughly handsome man in his early forties with an air of confidence and large appetites about him. You could tell right away he had that gift for getting people to underestimate him so that he could surprise them when the time was right. Here in Quentin’s office he could speak stirringly in the old labor tradition, and he meant it, but one got the sense that at the plant gates he could translate just as easily in the other direction and put radical ideas in language that made sense to the average steelworker.

This was a man who aspired to be director of the union’s largest district, but he projected a different persona from the average trade union leadership in steel. This was no gray-suited bureaucrat; Eddie Sadlowski was in office to carry out a Iife-Iong project, and every aspect of his complicated personality, down to the Iinesmanlike set of his shoulders, reflected that determination.

It became clear very quickly, despite all the rhetoric for the moneyed supporters, that Eddie was about more than just getting a union office. “If anything is going to change in America it isn’t going to be changed by business men, and it isn’t going to be done by the youth by themselves, either, unfortunately. Any progress we get will have to come from the working class.” (I paraphrase, because I wasn’t taking notes.)

Of course, the real purpose of the gathering was to raise money for Eddie’s recount campaign. We handed over our checks, and I agreed to host a similar meeting in our place up in Evanston the coming spring.

I liked Eddie, and I believed in what he was doing, but even more than that, I felt like this was a great opportunity to reestablish contact with my past. We spent more and more time together that winter and spring. (People assumed we had known each other in the mill, which wasn’t true, but it sounded good. He’d come into the mill as a machinist’s apprentice just when I was laid off in 1956.)

Very soon, the NLRB discovered that the official union leadership had faked the ballots in Gary, one of the biggest locals. I think they probably faked them just about everywhere, but Gary was where they were caught. A new election was set for the following year and Eddie won by about twenty thousand votes, which showed how egregiously the original election had been rigged.