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April 2024

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Clay Leon III

Clay Leon III, a son of New Orleans and a Fifth District international representative for more than a decade, died Feb. 5. He was 69, just one day short of his 70th birthday.

"This is devastating to us in the Fifth District," International Vice President Brian K. Thompson said. "We rallied around him. He rallied around us and demonstrated what it took to fight to the bitter end.

"For that, I am eternally thankful he was my brother and one of my closest friends. We can all rejoice that he's in heaven and he's pain-free."

Fifth District International Representative Glenn Brannen, a longtime friend and former business manager at Shreveport, La., Local 194, said Leon was "a good guy to know." Brannen added, "When you had a long day, he was someone you could talk to, and you knew he would cheer you up."

Born and raised in the Crescent City, Brother Leon began his apprenticeship in 1973 and joined New Orleans Local 130 in August 1975. He topped out as a journeyman wireman in August 1978 and had a long career in the field, including at the New Orleans Convention Center, where he served several years as a Local 130 steward.

Current Local 130 Business Manager Paul Zulli said Leon's leadership skills were sharpened in that role.

"We've never had the best relationship with the convention center over the years," said Zulli, who first met Leon on a jobsite more than 40 years ago. "The company that runs it has been doing it for a long time and doesn't hide that it doesn't like unions. Clay dealt with a lot of issues, but he always treated people with respect and looked out for our members."

Leon went on to serve as Local 130's treasurer from 2000 to 2005 and on the executive board from 2005 to 2009. He also worked as an organizer and assistant business manager.

He was appointed business manager to fill an open position in 2009 and was later reelected to the position, becoming the first Black business manager in Local 130's history.

Zulli and Brannen both said that one of Leon's notable accomplishments was negotiating a contract with the local chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association that didn't include a trip to the Council on Industrial Relations, a joint initiative between the IBEW and its signatory contractors to settle disputes between labor and management in the electrical industry.

That may sound odd in some parts of the United States. But with New Orleans being in Louisiana, a longtime right-to-work state in the Deep South, antagonism between labor and management is commonplace. Leon worked hard to develop a more positive relationship with NECA, Zulli said.

"He was very well respected by his peers and all the people in the local," Zulli said. "He was always nice and very pleasant, easy to talk to and never had a bad word to say."

Leon left the business manager's position in 2013 to join the Fifth District staff. He serviced locals from all branches in Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle.

Thompson, who became the district's international vice president in 2019 following the retirement of longtime IVP Joe Davis, said no one did more to ensure a smooth transition than Leon.

He took on any task and was adept in working with local unions outside his construction background, Thompson said. In 2018, Leon played a leading role in organizing a group of Frontier technicians into Pensacola, Fla., Local 676.

"He was just the utmost professional in everything he did," Thompson said. "You could tell by the way he talked to people and the way he welcomed them that he was something special."

Leon was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019 but made a full recovery. He was stricken with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in 2022, however, that ultimately led to his death. He continued to work and was kept on the district staff.

His ordeal was made even more grueling by the sudden death of his son, Clay Leon IV, in April 2023.

"He attended Catholic schools and was strong in his faith," Brannen said. "What else can you rely on to get through something like this? He handled it all as well as you could."

Leon was cognizant that being a Black leader in the IBEW made him a role model for minorities and historically underrepresented groups in the Brotherhood, Brannen said. Leon was a member of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

"He got promotions because of his tenacity and willingness to work," Brannen said. "That is what he preached to everybody. Do the right thing, and you'll get rewarded."

Zulli said a special moment came at the Fifth District progress meeting in 2020, when Leon told him "How proud he was of us and that we were doing a great job leading Local 130."

"I will never forget the pride on his face as he said that," Zulli added.

Brother Leon is survived by his wife, Ursula, along with two daughters and one grandson. The officers and staff send their condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time and remember his service to the IBEW.

"The Lord blessed us all when he gave us Clay, who touched us in many ways," Thompson said. "For that, we are eternally grateful and better for it."


Clay Leon III