MEMORY OF LEGENDARY LEADER LOOMS LARGE IN FLORIDA

MEMORY OF LEGENDARY LEADER LOOMS LARGE IN FLORIDA

In life, Teddy Gleason only stood about 5' 6" as the ruler measures.

But anyone who heard him speak from a podium or sat across from him at a negotiating table will say the man who led the International Longshoremen's Association for 24 years was a lot bigger than that.

LEGACY EVIDENT

And despite the fact that he's been gone from this world for over two years, Mr. Gleason's shadow looms large over the International Longshoremen's Association. His legacy was evident at the ILA's 49th convention here.

"Even though my father has passed away," said Bobby Gleason, the ILA's secretary-treasurer and the man who many think will one day lead the union, ''his ideals, his concerns and his love have not."

At one point during the convention, a memorial video that his sons did not know had been prepared appeared on two giant video screens.

"Things were bad" when he took the reins of the union in 1963, Mr. Gleason recalled in footage from the last convention four years ago. "We had nothing. We owed everybody. That first contract we had a little strike."

It was anything but a little strike.

It was the act that helped transform the ILA from a union whose members never knew from day-to-day if they would have work, into one where they enjoyed contracts that were the envy of the rest of U.S. labor for high wages and excellent benefits, which included guarantees of pay even if there was no work.

STRIKE SET THE STAGE

It was a strike that set the stage for how labor would share in the massive cost savings and booming cargo volumes, the result of the switch from box-by-box unloading to using the 20-foot and longer containers that could be moved straight from a ship to a truck chassis.

And it was also a strike - as was evident in the over 50-year-old faces on the convention floor - that many of the ILA's members remember personally. They remember the way things used to be and how that changed radically under Mr. Gleason. They remember what it's like to risk everything by picking up a picket sign and marching in front of your employer's gates.

The ILA is a group that is particularly good at remembering. Mr. Gleason's video was pre- ceded by a ceremony where the widows of its past leaders had an opportunity to come up to the podium and say a few words of thanks to the ILA for not forgetting, for the pride they feel in the union and for its example of solidarity.

In a world where change and rootlessness is so predominant that many people feel unsure whether they will even have the same career a few years

from now, the ILA's people seem to know who they are and to feel pride in it.

PEOPLE LOVED HIM

They know they are the kind of people that Mr. Gleason loved and devoted his life to leading even in his last days. When he got behind the microphone, Mr. Gleason made his people feel powerful and proud of what they were. He was magnetic. His people loved him. He was fearless, even when the government was accusing his union of being riddled with corruption - a charge it could never make stick.

And, for some unknown reason, the U.S. labor movement now seems to have so few leaders who could inspire love and admiration like Mr. Gleason did.

Who can imagine a modern labor leader getting up before the microphone at a convention and singing "When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New," a song that he first heard in the 1940s and dedicated to his wife one night at the old Astor hotel?

"Instead of being happy, my mother was mad at him because he tipped (the band leader) half a week's wages," said his son Bobby.

"It does bring tears to the eyes," said his son Thomas, ILA general counsel, after seeing Mr. Gleason sing the song in the video.

His sons were hardly the only ones in the convention room with wet eyes.

"Do not shed a tear for Teddy. He accomplished so much in life," said John Bowers, who took over the reins of the ILA after Mr. Gleason's 1987 retirement and now sees his main task as preserving for his members the gains Mr. Gleason won by inspiring solidarity and driving a hard bargain. "If I know Teddy, now he's in heaven negotiating with the angels."