Thu June 21, 2012
Jim Lorence, Wisconsin labor historian, remembered as ‘gentle but fierce advocate’
Wisconsin labor historian Jim Lorence is being remembered as a gentle but fierce advocate for working people. The author of eight books also inspired thousands of students in central Wisconsin.
Jim Lorence, one of America's top labor historians, died Tuesday of a blood disorder, after 35 years of teaching at UW Marathon County. Former Democratic Congressman Dave Obey remembers his lifelong friend: “Jim, he was a fierce advocate, yet he was personally a very gentle person.”
Lorence edited Obey's autobiography, and Obey remembers his early advice on it: “He told me it was too blessed long, and told me that he thought I should cut out about 150 pages... which I did.”
Jim Lorence helped Obey get elected in his first congressional campaign in 1969. In a Wisconsin Public Radio interview, Lorence recalled how the two shared a sometimes volatile passion for politics, “I can remember Dave and I standing probably three feet from the swimming pool, having at it. People in the area were wondering which one of us was going to go into the pool first.”
Jim Lorence was, above all, an advocate for working people and labor unions, and someone who believed government plays a necessary role in leveling the economic playing field: “Capitalism is a wonderful economic system and machine. It's not necessarily a moral system. Without some kind of structure or framework of governmental control, it's possible for workers to be abused.”
Dave Obey says Jim Lorence will be missed: “Thousands of students benefited from his honest wisdom in the classroom. It's a great loss to the university, and a great loss to the community and a great loss to those of us who were friends.”
Jim Lorence leaves behind his wife, Donna, and their two daughters.