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May 2024

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Donald J. Sabin

Donald J. Sabin, who served as assistant to the international president for 23 years, died in his hometown of Tupper Lake, N.Y., on Feb. 17. He was 93.

Brother Sabin held his position from 1969 until his retirement in 1992. He served under International President Charles H. Pillard during the first 17 years and then under J.J. "Jack" Barry, Pillard's successor.

He returned to upstate New York in retirement and split his time between there and Port Charlotte, Fla.

"He was knowledgeable, and he knew our Constitution from cover to cover," said retired Political Director Rick Diegel, who first met Sabin when Diegel moved to Washington to work as an international representative in 1983. "He was spot on with all the advice he gave and in all the comments he ever made. He was a very intelligent guy and didn't mince words."

Sabin was born in Tupper Lake, a village of about 3,000 residents in northeast New York, not far from the Vermont and Canadian borders. He served in the U.S. Marines Corps during the Korean War and, in 1956, followed his father into the Brotherhood. He joined Saranac Lake, N.Y., Local 373, where he completed his apprenticeship and became a journeyman wireman. (Local 373 was amalgamated into Local 781, which was later amalgamated into Watertown, N.Y., Local 910.)

He quickly became active in the local and served eight years as business manager before moving to the international staff in 1969.

Diegel said Sabin had a strong personality and didn't hold back on opinions. That could be intimidating to some, he said.

But the payoff was worth it for those who spent time with him and broke through that veneer, Diegel said.

Sabin often handled disputes involving local unions and elections, making sure the proper regulations were followed while also maintaining good relationships with business managers and other local officials.

"I always looked at him as our in-house lawyer," Diegel said. "That's how good he was."

Retired Eleventh District Vice President William Eads first met Sabin in 1974, when Eads was the business manager at Kansas City Local 1613.

At the time, Local 1613 was on strike against Kansas City Power & Light, just as the city was about to host the International Convention. Sabin brought the matter to Pillard's attention and helped ensure that delegates and other attendees protested outside the utility's headquarters, a Kansas City landmark and once the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

"We had a full city block of people surround that skyscraper, and they were four people deep," Eads said. "We did it again every morning of that convention."

Those demonstrations were a boost for Local 1613 members, who eventually agreed to a fair contract, Eads said, calling Sabin "a guy that always got the job done."

Sabin was active in the community, whether it was back home in Tupper Lake or in the Washington, D.C., area.

He served on the Tupper Lake School Board and as a volunteer firefighter. He lived in Bowie, Md., while working at the IO and was a grand knight for the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal order of Roman Catholic men. He led a procession to St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington during Pope John Paul II's visit to the city in October 1979.

While he had a deep religious faith, he was not afraid to challenge authority, Diegel said. Sabin once told him about a priest at his home parish who suggested during Mass that Catholics shouldn't vote for the candidates Sabin supported.

That enraged Sabin — not just because he disagreed but because the priest brought up partisan politics at the altar and Sabin was an active volunteer in the church. He spoke up during the service, and he and the priest continued talking afterward, leading to a heated discussion in front of other parishioners.

"I think he told me it was an out-of-body experience," Diegel said with a laugh.

Brother Sabin also coached youth hockey, was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and worked with groups that advanced the rights of the disabled. He was a longtime member of the Board of Visitors at Sunmount, a New York state-run center for developmentally disabled people that is a major employer in Tupper Lake. The board serves as watchdog for the safety of patients and employees at the facility.

He is survived by Marlene, his wife of 71 years; daughters Lynn, Katherine and Diane; sons John and Paul; and nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Another son, Michael, died in 2016.

The officers and staff send their condolences to Brother Sabin's family and loved ones during this difficult time and thank him for his service.


Donald J. Sabin