By Patty Friend
Margo Hall-O’Kane, beloved wife, daughter, sister, cousin and friend passed away on May 3, 2021. She died peacefully, in her sleep. The profound nature of her loss – to her family, friends and community to which she gave her heart, soul and amazing energy – is indescribable.
Margo was a member of SDUSA back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. She worked then for the AFL-CIO’s Department of Organizing, and before that for the Seafarers International Union (SIU) – her father’s and brother’s union. During all of that time, over the course of 30 years, she worked on union and other political organizing campaigns, from Maine to Texas, Detroit, NYC and more. She was also a labor lobbyist, mentored many younger women in the movement, and trained a whole generation of organizers.
She was one of the great organizers. Not only was she a hard worker, skilled professional and loyal, generous spirit, she was a natural-born leader. Her energy and warmth lit up the room, along with her contagious laugh. She had a mind like a steel trap. We met in 1986 when I worked for the NYC Central Labor Council and she was with the SIU.
With all her virtues, she had a wicked temper. You did not want to be on the wrong side of her anger, where she would ‘lay you out in lavender’ as she would say. But she rarely carried a grudged or stayed angry for long. She was demanding of those she loved and motivated them to do their best. People of all ages were crazy about her, At her funeral were senior citizens, teenagers and everybody in between. One of her youngest friends, a 9-year-old boy, said, “I really loved her…my life will never be the same.”
Margo and her brother Max grew up in a Labor home. Her father was Paul Hull, the President and amazing leader of the SIU, and their mother, Rose, was an organizer in her own right. The entire family gave their hearts and souls to the American Labor Movement and the Democratic Party. Many of our older members will remember hearing about or even attending Frontlash training conferences at Piney Point, the SIU’s training institute, and have fond memories spending time with Paul Hull. In 1996, she married Raymond O’Kane, a dedicated trade unionist who worked as the Human Resources Director of the Consortium for Worker Education in NYC, where he made an invaluable contribution to staff and workers throughout New York.
After she retired from the AFL-CIO, she became a full-time resident at Smallwood, a lovely hamlet in the Catskills. As a community activist there, she devoted her time to helping battered women and abused and homeless animals. In addition ,she helped raise funds to the local fire department. As one woman from Smallwood said to me, “Smallwood has suffered a deep loss.”
Margo lived with an enormous amount of pain all over her body, and apart from her doctors, no one knew how debilitating and destructive her chronic pain was. She didn’t want to be a ‘complainer’ or let the pain defeat her. Eventually, something did defeat her: cancer. It started as a ‘freckle’ in her left eye, which traveled to her liver and lungs, and then everywhere else. Fortunately, in the end she had hospice care at home. Raymond, helped by her medical professionals and great friend Stephanie Donahue (whose husband and in-laws also died of cancer), was with her all the way. And the rest of us got to be with her every day until she passed.
In the last four months of her life, she was as sharp and as aware as she ever had been during her organizing career. It was not easy loving her or being loved by her, but it was so rich. All of us who knew her and loved her were better off for having her in our lives. She has passed away, but she will always be with us, because a spirit like hers is just too big, too robust and too loving to die.
Sleep well, my dear sister and comrade and enjoy your future. And as I always said to her, “I love you forever.”
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.