Frank Meehan spent two decades spearheading the United Food & Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) effort to raise money to defeat blood cancers. As president of the Long Island, NY Local, he was one of the first leaders to act upon the union’s national relationship with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
Then last spring, in a twist of fate, he ended up losing his life to one of the aggressive leukemias he’d been hoping to see cured.
“It’s so ironic. He worked so hard for this cause,” said his wife Pam. “He kicked off UFCW’s involvement for years. For him to pass from acute myeloid leukemia (AML) just blew us all away.”
Meehan, who was 75, looked and felt fine when he went for his annual physical in December. He had a low level of vitamin B12 that he couldn’t seem to kick but that was it. When a doctor did a bone marrow biopsy in March just to be safe, he was diagnosed with AML. The initial treatment knocked out his white blood cells and when he developed a complication, it couldn’t be treated and he got pneumonia. He died on Easter Sunday, only three weeks after being diagnosed.
At first his family was angry. He did so much to fight leukemia. Why would this happen to him?
“But then you ask why it would happen to a small child,” said Pam Meehan. “There’s no answer. It’s just a devastating loss.”
This year’s Light The Night Walk is a special one for Local 1500 as members are participating in the Oct. 17 event in East Meadow in honor of Meehan. The “Cancer Kicker” group has traditionally raised more than $50,000 a year for LLS by hosting walks at Shea Stadium, bowling tournaments, comedy shows, raffles and bus trips to Atlantic City, When Meehan retired in 2005, the local raised more than $100,000 in his honor and donated it to LLS.
“Frank lived a life of openhearted generosity and cared for all who met him,” said Tony Speelman, secretary-treasurer for Local 1500. “He touched the lives of thousands of working men and women through his kindred spirit, generosity and loving demeanor. He was a friend, a father, a husband, a grandfather, but no title could ever sum up the essence of Frank Meehan. He was simply one of a kind.”
The labor leader was at the forefront of battles to improve the working conditions of thousands of union members. A part-time grocery store worker who rose to become a store manager, he became an organizer and union representative, and was elected president of Local 1500 in 1984.
David Timko, LLS’s senior vice president for volunteer engagement, said that once Meehan understood the LLS mission and the tragedy of blood cancers, he took up the cause. The union held him in high regard and he was an inspiration to others, Timko said. While sick in the hospital, he signed a release to donate blood and other samples for research.
“He lived such a rich life and did so much for others,” Timko added. “He spent so many years fundraising for LLS and he passed away just as we were beginning to make progress.”
Pam Meehan said she continues to have great hope for upcoming research. For her husband, doctors said that getting AML was like flipping a switch. One minute you’re fine, the next you’re sick.
“I hope somewhere out there someone will find a way to turn that switch off and save other people from going through this,” she said.
Donate to Local 1500’s team here.
UFCW a Powerful Voice
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has been a powerful voice for LLS for an amazing 32 years – raising close to $77 million! In 2015 alone, the UFCW raised $1.9 million in the U.S. and more than $2.5 million in Canada. Fundraising activities included charity golf tournaments, auctions, dinners, bottle drives, bowling events and sporting clay shooting events along with participation in LLS campaigns such as Light The Night, Team In Training and other activities.
The UFCW is now focusing on getting more of its locals to participate in the Light The Night Walk and it looks like that number will triple this fall.
Here are just a few examples of how the UFCW has been involved. Local 328, representing workers in Rhode Island, southern Massachusetts. and eastern Connecticut, reached the $1 million milestone recently through its annual golf tournament. In addition, UFCW Local 75 in the Cincinnati/Dayton area raised $110,000 with a charity golf tournament, Shoot for a Cure event and participation in Light The Night. UFCW members affiliated with The Beer Store supported a bottle drive for LLSC throughout Canada that raised more than $1.7 million.
The UFCW, the largest private sector union in the country, represents workers in the grocery industry as well as nursing homes; retail clothing stores; poultry, meatpacking and food processing plants; and in numerous other retail and food manufacturing areas.