The IBEW’s Tenth District lost one of its most colorful and respected foreman trainers last January when Charlotte, N.C., Local 379 Assistant Manager Business Manager Edgar W. Brown died suddenly at 66.
|After the sudden death in January of Charlotte, N.C., Local 379’s Edgar Brown, Tenth District International Vice President Brent Hall authorized production of a challenge coin to honor the popular educator’s memory.
“Edgar was deeply thoughtful, passionate and practical,” said Tenth District International Vice President Brent Hall, whose jurisdiction includes North Carolina. “His mission was seeing to the success of the IBEW and its members, and his considerable knowledge and charisma left a memorable impression on everyone he met.”
Brown had been a traveler for most of his four-decade IBEW career, said Rebecca Axford, an international representative in the IBEW’s Education Department.
“Along the way, he’d discovered the importance of programs like the Foreman’s Development Series and the Code of Excellence,” she said.
FDS is a training curriculum that was launched in the union’s Seventh District in 2010 in an effort to develop new generations of highly trained foremen.
The IBEW’s Code of Excellence, developed in the Eighth District in 2006 and introduced union-wide the following year, helps build positive attitudes about the union’s members and their work by ensuring high worker and workplace standards.
“Edgar had a passion for FDS and the Code of Excellence,” said Tenth District International Representative Tommy Hill. “Both of these programs fit hand in glove.”
Axford agreed. “Edgar became a huge advocate of both programs, seeing them as instrumental to the success of local unions and the IBEW,” she said. “He was like the IBEW’s version of Johnny Appleseed, going place to place to promote them.”
Several years ago, Brown stopped traveling and went to work at Local 379, the same local where his father and two brothers had been members. He quickly became renowned throughout the district for his unique instruction style, particularly when it came to his enthusiasm for the Foreman’s Development Series.
Before FDS, there had been almost no professional or in-house foreman training anywhere in the IBEW. Foremen, who essentially have one foot in labor and one in management, were largely tasked to learn the job on the job.
In the late 2000s, then-Seventh District International Vice President Jonathon Gardner decided that an IBEW-led best-practices program would solve these supervisory issues and help locals successfully bid for work.
Gardner worked with IBEW members like Seventh District International Representative Gary Buresh and Albuquerque, N.M., Local 611’s Tom Ross, along with other training and development experts, to devise a modular program to help prepare foreman candidates to face a variety of real-world construction job scenarios.
Hill, who was Local 379’s business manager when Brown was hired, said a scarcity of supervisors had occasionally plagued his local, too.
“Our E-board had been talking with one of our contractors,” Hill said. “They were complaining about not having enough trained foremen.”
Around the same time, then-Business Manager Hill ran into Buresh at an IBEW Construction and Maintenance Conference in Washington, D.C. They talked about FDS as they shared a taxi ride.
It wasn’t long after Hall became international vice president in 2015 and Hill was appointed as an international representative that the Tenth District adopted FDS.
“We’ve got all this work coming,” Hill recalled Hall saying. “We can’t let it go just because we don’t have qualified supervisors.”
Axford praised Hall’s willingness to try something different with FDS. “He is someone who makes sure everyone has the tools and training they need,” she said.
Hired in 2016 as Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Local 553’s training director, Axford was soon introduced to Brown.
“Because of our experience and shared passion for FDS, I was selected to instruct with Edgar,” she said. “I deeply respected his desire to grow the IBEW. And I loved that you could not put Edgar in a box. He had such a rich history, and he constantly surprised you with his perspective. He was such a character.”
Hill recalled one example of Brown’s distinctiveness. “We were in an airport, just talking,” he said. Brown’s booming voice, though, carried over to a nearby passenger, who asked Brown to keep it down.
“We don’t want to hear you,” she said.
An unfazed Brown replied, “Ma’am, that’s just the way I talk!”
Scott Thrower, who succeeded Hill as business manager of Local 379 in 2019, noted how Brown enjoyed talking about the Code and FDS. “To him, they were a little bit of common sense in a world of craziness.”
Thrower said that Brown also would distribute business-size cards that he’d had printed at his own expense containing motivational reminders. On one side, the card read, “OWN IT — Own who you are! Own what you do! Own your responsibility! Own YOU.” Printed on the other side: “Let go of who’s right and focus on what’s right.”
“He was a good guy,” Thrower said. “We were as close as colleagues can be. I truly miss him.”
To honor Brown’s memory and legacy, Hall recently authorized the production of a Tenth District FDS challenge coin featuring Brown’s face minted on one side.
“Edgar wanted FDS to go to the next level, to be embraced by all the districts. He wanted to leave the union better than he found it,” Axford said. “He was passionate about the work without wanting to tie it to himself personally.
“He would be so proud of the work we’re continuing,” she said.
Read more about FDS’s origins in the March 2023 Electrical Worker.