Last Monday, many hundreds of mourners spilled to outside of the chapel to pay their last respects to union stalwart, well-known personality and former SUA and MUA official - Laurie Steen.
Amongst the mourners were retired SUA officials John Benson, Taffy Sweetenson and Pat Geraghty, retired MUA Presiding Officer Jim Donovon, retired AMOU President Fred Ross, former MUA official Tony Papaconstantinos and many other senior union and maritime industry participants.
Laurie’s wife, Barbara, had her eulogy read out by the celebrant. It began with his tough but loving childhood that he shared with his father and many siblings in Queensland, through to his retirement in 1999 where he continued to pursue his three great loves; his family, golf and the union.
Barbara’s words painted a vivid picture of the man Laurie was, describing his numerous fights for social justice, equality and fairness.
Following Barbara, his two daughters Mandy and Kimmer, talked about how supportive Laurie was as a father and grandfather and that he had instilled in them and subsequently his grandchildren and sense of humanity and justice.
Kimmer said she recalled wearing ‘Stop the Bomb’ and ‘Save the Whales’ t-shirts from a young age and that how through osmosis she had learned the values of a fair-go.
Following Laurie’s daughters, Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman took to the lectern to pay homage to Laurie and talked about how he managed to improve the environment of every ship he worked with his humour and good-nature.
Former Seamen’s Union Federal Secretary Pat Geraghty spoke about how Laurie had played an integral part in increasing leave for seafarers, allowing those who went to sea more time with their families and also fighting for superannuation by helping set up the Seafarers Retirement Fund – now known as Maritime Super.
Newcastle Branch Secretary Glen Williams took to the podium to read out a letter from National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, who was unable to make the funeral because of international commitments at the International Labour Organisation.
The following is what was said:
Can you please pass on Gail and my and my family's deepest sympathies and condolences to Barbara and the family and those of the Maritime Union, Maritime Super and the International Transport Workers Federation and the many officers, members, staff and others associated.
Laurie had many friends and comrades and enjoyed an enormous affection and respect accumulated through his long, committed and colourful life, and we have all been reeling from the terrible events of the last fortnight.
But the best way to make sense of it I think is to reflect on the wonderful bloke himself.
He was always the youthful Laurie Steen, right up to that tragic passing and exuded a constant energy and enthusiasm for all aspects of life that drew all of us into an enlivened appreciation of his company. A drink, a meal, a meeting with Laurie was punctuated with laughter mostly it seems to me now due to the what seemed inexhaustible stock of jokes, observations and anecdotes from his life and everyone and everything it encompassed.
From those days of the young Wedge and Laurie chasing a couple of much younger, beautiful women named Barbara and Jenny, forever fending off the complete disapproval of their wise father, to the birth and blossoming lives and achievements of Mandy and Kimmer, their marriages, the births of Will, Nieve Sophie and Emily and their blossoming lives in turn on to his extraordinarily adventurous, humorous, and richly textured experiences at sea from the ill fated Trangi with Donnie Lees as the chief Engineer, Coby Heath as the Bosun and Ricky White and Bobby Mees as the facilitators in general, time with Laurie was like a chapter out of a Damon Runyon book on Australian rather than New York workers and their sub culture.
He was much loved, greatly loved, by everyone and it is almost beyond belief that his ball of constant energy and optimism is gone from our reach. Over the last week as problems inevitably pile up and compound, a part of me reaches in through habit, for the assurance that there is always the next beer or two in the company of my mate only to confront again this great loss. So that sense of loss that you are feeling Barbara, with your beautiful family can barely be countenanced. We all here today, in person or otherwise that shared with you in some way in Laurie’s life can only hope our constant thoughts, best wishes and deep appreciation for you in some way brings a comfort and an easing of pain
In Geneva last week at the International Labour Organisation putting into action the Maritime Labour Convention that for the first time in history secures and enforces the rights and protections of seafarers from the worst to the best of national circumstances, Laurie’s lifetime contribution to that same cause was reflected upon with respect and appreciation. His journey from a young deck boy having to come South from his home and extended seafaring family in Queensland to ship out, through the almost unimaginable number of ships of every size and configuration led him to his long, valuable and distinguished contribution as one of the great leaders of our union and the union movement. That journey, and the quality and substance of it has impacted and influenced many trade union leaders worldwide. He is remembered by them and us most importantly as progressing the great labour values of peace and human progress through equity and justice.
He lived his life for those values and the hope they hold, from the pick up at Kent Street to the May Day and Palm Sunday Marches on to the senior and sustained role as Deputy Presiding officer and Presiding Officer of the MUA through the demanding early years of amalgamation and the great trials of the Patrick dispute. His role and that respect for it will hold fast in the union and the progressive movement and is secure.
In retirement his contribution on the board of Maritime Super was predictably enthusiastic, wise, constant and a great pleasure for all the other directors and senior management. Maritime workers of Laurie’s generation went from a time when you retired with little but your last cash payoff to the financial security and dignity that the union led by Pat Geraghty so resoundingly accomplished. He never forgot that and never stopped giving back to others in the same way.
But for all of those mighty achievements I know the greatest thing those years held for him was the 5.30 train from central to Gosford to the family. With a twinkle and wink of the eye, a wave over the shoulder and an "all for the best, comrade" he was off to where his heart was.
Vale Laurie, a constant friend and comrade throughout my life, and many others. His company lightened the load of the day, and extended many nights. A good and true person and positive in all he did and said. A loving family man.
Now at rest,
Other messages were passed onto Laurie’s family from a range of other people including Tony Maher from the CFMEU and ITF acting General Secretary Steve Cotton as well as from a number of ships.
Mr Steen suffered a fall in recent weeks and had been on life support at the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
Mr Steen retired in 1999 after 43 years of service to the workplace. He was an extremely active union member, an active organiser for his union and a senior official by the time of his retirement. He was also an alternate director at Maritime Super and continued to make a valuable and sustained contributions to the welfare of maritime workers retirement security right up to his death.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers people consider a donation to the MUA Veterans: MMPCU Acc: 34542 - S2