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Former Chicago newspaper mailers union boss dead at 93

John Philbin

John Philbin

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:56AM

John Philbin was president of the Chicago Mailers Union for 25 years, representing the workers who moved newspapers from printing presses to trucks for delivery.

Mr. Philbin, 93, a Chicago native who retired to California, died of cancer last month in Fullerton, Calif.

Mr. Philbin was born in 1919, the son of Francis and Beatrice Philbin, Irish immigrants who sailed to the United States from County Mayo, Ireland, and settled in Humboldt Park, where they reared eight children.

He attended Our Lady of Angels parish elementary school and Austin High School.

After graduating in 1935, Mr. Philbin enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program for unmarried and unemployed men. For six months, he worked building camps and roads in Wisconsin, and his family received a monthly check for $25.

In 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and, rising to the rank of technical sergeant, served in Paris during World War II. Using typing skills he’d learned in high school, Mr. Philbin worked an office administrative job and never saw combat.

“He volunteered for the service,” said Frances Schneider, Mr. Philbin’s sister, who described her brother as a loyal Irish-Catholic Democrat who never complained about paying his taxes. “He was proud to be an American. He came from a working-class area and appreciated what he had.”

After leaving the military in 1945, Mr. Philbin got a job as a mailer for the Chicago Daily News — a popular job for returning veterans.

He met his future wife, Gwen Brooks, at a dance at the Aragon Ballroom. They married in 1947 and did not have children.

Mr. Philbin had enrolled in Roosevelt University but dropped out in 1962 to mount a successful campaign for president of the mailers union, a post to which he repeatedly won re-election.

“He was very good with people,” said Schneider. “He had a very good reputation as being very fair and honest. People wanted to get on the list to be a mailer, and he wouldn’t give anyone breaks if they knew him. You got on the list and waited your turn.”

Mr. Philbin’s wife died in 1992. He remained an avid golfer to the end, his sister said.

He is also survived by a brother, George. Services were held in California.


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