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Obituary Stories

Legislator's history turned focus to workers' rights

Natasha Lindstrom
| Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

Joseph Matthew Gaydos Sr., who championed blue-collar worker rights and protections for domestic steel during his quarter-century in Congress, died Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, of a blood-related illness while under hospice care in his daughter's home in Elizabeth Township. He was 88.

“A common element throughout this life was that he looked to help — whether it be working people, people that couldn't do it for themselves or our country in time of need,” his son, Joseph Gaydos Jr., said Sunday.

After a brief stint as a Pennsylvania state senator, Mr. Gaydos, a Democrat, became the first Slovak American to join Congress in 1968. He represented Pennsylvania's former 20th District until 1993.

“I don't even remember a holiday that we even got to eat a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal when (a constituent) didn't ring the doorbell because they had a problem or needed something done,” his daughter, Kelly Gaydos, said.

Gaydos Jr. described his father, who had been a member of auto, glass and steel unions in earlier years, as a humble, hard-working man who had a “business-first” attitude while taking seriously the concerns of his constituents.

“He was never somebody who needed to drive a big car and have the fanciest of things,” Gaydos Jr. said. “He was a regular fellow who told us to always remember where we came from.”

Mr. Gaydos was born July 3, 1926, in Braddock to Joann (John) Gajdosh and Helen (Elena) Megella Gaydos, who met while immigrating to the United States from a part of Hungary that later became Slovakia. He was the youngest of seven children and grew up in Glassport.

“Things were lean. They would cook the chickens they raised. His dad would trudge down the hill to copper-weld every day,” his son said.

At 17, Mr. Gaydos and his Glassport High School buddies joined the military during World War II.

When the war ended, Mr. Gaydos attended Duquesne University and Notre Dame University Law School, then started a private practice and was general counsel to United Mineworkers District 5.

He was assistant solicitor for Alle-gheny County and deputy attorney general for Pennsylvania before entering the political arena.

While in Congress, Mr. Gaydos helped pass the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which set minimum standards for private industry pension plans.

Through the Congressional Steel Caucus, Gaydos galvanized members “to strengthen trade law enforcement from unfairly subsidized and dumped steel imports,” recalled United Steel Workers spokesman Gary Hubbard. “He sponsored bills for job safety in industrial workplaces and the coal mines.”

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said he talked to Mr. Gaydos often and tried to emulate his focus on maintaining close ties with his constituents. Doyle's father, a steelworker, “felt Joe Gaydos really stood up for the blue-collar workers in the Mon Valley,” Doyle said.

Since posting about his death on Facebook, Kelly Gaydos said she has received a flood of messages from people sharing small but memorable gestures her father made — from offering pro-bono legal work to giving money to a struggling single mom.

“People mattered to him,” Kelly Gaydos said.

He valued a strong work ethic and actions over words.

“Don't tell me what you're going to do,” his son recalled him saying often. “Show me what you've done.”

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in the chapel of Gilbert Funeral Home and Crematory in Elizabeth Township.

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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