Garry Rogers and Todd Edgerly hit it off the first day they
met, two electricians who lived half a world apart.
Friends and family from two continents honored late IBEW Seventh District organizer Todd Edgerly at his gravesite in May. Front row: parents Flo and Gene Edgerly. Back row from left: Eddie Smith, assistant business manager, Local 2286; Justin Page, Electrical Trades Union, New South Wales; Gerry Rogers, ETU Queensland; and from the Seventh District, international representatives George Crawford (retired) and Dave Gonzales.
Rogers was visiting from Australia in September 2007 as part of an innovative IBEW Seventh District exchange program. A few years later, Edgerly, a journeyman inside wireman and organizer at Beaumont, Texas, Local 479, would make the trip Down Under.
The first night, the eve of several days Rogers would spend riding along with Edgerly, they hung out at Edgerly’s favorite bar, chatting with women handing out a brewery’s promotional merchandise.
“Todd says to me, ‘Damn that accent of yours. The women just love it.’ We made a bond that night that would last for life,” Rogers said.
Tragically for Edgerly, his life was cut short by cancer five years later, when he was just 48 years old.
This spring, Rogers made it back to Texas to honor his friend, visiting his gravesite with Edgerly’s parents and some of his closet IBEW brothers.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea and request,” said retired Seventh District International Representative George Crawford. “We said a few words, let some balloons go and toasted Todd with a cold beer.”
Crawford launched the exchange program in 1996 while he was business manager of Beaumont Local 2286, an opportunity for IBEW and Australia’s Electrical Trades Union to learn from each other’s best practices and training methods. The program went district-wide in 2002.
In a tribute to Edgerly from the ETU, published in Beaumont’s newspaper, the union said, “Todd will be fondly remembered as a union brother who was a bright and energetic friend and mate who helped develop relationships between the Australian and American electrical unions. May he rest in peace.”
On top of the valuable things he learned during his 2007 visit, Rogers will never forget the fun he and Edgerly had.
“He drove me to Austin on a Saturday, when the Austin City Limits Music Festival was on,” he said. “One of the bars we went to had a closed set with Bob Dylan. I was totally blown away. I had never dreamed of such a surprise.”
In May 2008, Rogers picked Edgerly up at the airport in Brisbane, Queensland, the northeastern territory of Australia.
“As we drove, he was so excited that we got to meet again – and he was amazed how long the flight was to get here,” Rogers said. “Over the next week, each of the Brisbane [ETU] organizers had time with Todd, and all of them bonded with him.”
Especially memorable was Labour Day, which Queensland celebrates in May. In other parts of Australia, it falls during March or September.
“I remember taking Todd to our Labour Day march in Brisbane and seeing him start crying as he saw thousands of union members mustering to start the march in the city streets,” Rogers said. “Todd told me that it took him back to when his grandfather used to take him to the Labor Day parade when he was a little boy. It was a very moving moment for both of us.”
Edgerly also spoke at the event. “He was thinking a small crowd of 50 to 100 people,” Crawford said. “He said it ended up being a few thousand. He didn’t have a speech, he just got out and shot from the hip. He said he was honored to be there with them. He got a huge ovation.”
Edgerly told Crawford how impressed he was “to see how well the ETU mobilized people for their labor rally and their activity in the community.”
It was the pinnacle of his union journey.
“Mr. and Mrs. Edgerly raised Todd with strong beliefs in organized labor,” Crawford said. “He loved the IBEW. He loved working for the local. He told me, ‘George, the best thing that’s ever happened to me was to go down to Australia.’ It was the highlight of his life.”