About 350 Ventura County community and political leaders paid tribute to the late Henry “Hank” Lacayo on June 24 at the John Spoor Broome Library at CSU Channel Islands.
Lacayo, a national figure in the labor movement and in Democratic Party circles, died May 1 after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 85.
During a three-hour ceremony that celebrated Lacayo’s life and work, Richard Rush, former president of CI, recalled that when he first met Lacayo, the longtime Newbury Park resident questioned his commitment to building a university that was truly inclusive.
They discovered common ground and “corazon,” Spanish for “heart, ” became the basis for a pact that led Lacayo to join the CI Foundation board, donate his archive to the university, and set up a center for workforce studies that bears his name.
Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, recalled that it was Lacayo’s encouragement that got her to enter a race for the General Assembly. “It was a decision that changed my life,” said the two-term representative.
Juan Andrade, president of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, recalled Lacayo’s gift for arm-twisting and his relentless drive. Arriving in Chicago for a trip to support the candidacy of Walter Washington for mayor, Lacayo remarked that Andrade had only brought one change of clothes. After a few days wearing the same outfit, he told Andrade to call home. “We’re going to stay here until the job is done,” Andrade recalled Lacayo telling him.
His widow, Leah, recalled that Lacayo was a different kind of labor leader. He insisted that his negotiating teams wear suits and ties when they met with management to negotiate contracts and he never took himself too seriously.
Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Camarillo, and Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean co-hosted the program. Family members recounted Lacayo’s extraordinary efforts to include family members as he traveled around the country. They also remarked on his love of fishing and his sometimes mischievous streak. His sister recounted that he convinced a priest to change his birthdate so that he could join the Navy at 17; his mother found out and the Navy rejected him but he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force the next year.
Born in East Los Angeles, Lacayo grew up in Mexico, where his family moved when he was young, and then returned to LA to graduate high school. Although he never attended college, he was a skilled writer and speaker who rose through the ranks to lead the largest United Auto Workers local on the West Coast when he was still in his 20s.
• Contact Henry Dubroff at [email protected]