Peduto gives key to the city to former United Steelworkers union president
Former United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard usually has a lot to say when given a bully pulpit, but he was nearly speechless Thursday when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto handed him a key to the city.
“Wow,” Gerard said as Peduto handed him a box containing the key. “Mayor, that’s beautiful.”
Peduto recognized Gerard for 50 years of service he gave to the working class.
Gerard, 72, of Cranberry retired last month after heading the Pittsburgh-based steelworkers union for 18 years. Highmark Health announced Thursday that it had named Gerard to its board of directors.
A native Canadian, Gerard started his union career at age 18 working in the northern Ontario mining industry. He rose in union leadership from local, regional and national positions and was known for a subtle wit and frequent use of factory vocabulary despite the audience.
“Pittsburgh has been blessed to have you,” Peduto said. “You have been a leader on an international scale that has always made it feel like you were just a guy who lived next door. You were approachable. You were accessible. You were there not only for your workers, but for workers all over this world.”
Gerard said he is still helping out around union headquarters in Downtown and would likely be doing that until November. He said he and a grandson recently visited a fishing cabin he owns on a Canadian lake for a first time in three years.
“I can say this without any fear of being wrong: I’ve been blessed to live in two of the best countries and to live and work in two of the best cities,” he said.
He recalled how a friendly clerk at a local discount store helped him shop when he first moved to Pittsburgh.
“By the time I left 30 minutes later, I knew all about her family, and she knew all about mine,” he said. “People were just so open. I got home and told my wife that this is a great place, and it really is a great place.”
He described himself as a longtime Steelers fan. He only adopted the Penguins after seeing Mario Lemieux play.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am to be able to say that I’m from Pittsburgh now,” he said. “Pittsburgh Steelers have six Super Bowl rings, the Pittsburgh Penguins have five Stanley Cup rings and, hopefully, the Pirates will have more than onion rings in the future.”
This is the seventh time that Peduto, who took office in 2014, has given out a key to the city. The keys are made at the Wendell August Forge in Grove City by employees who belong to the United Steelworkers.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .