In Memory of



Obituary for Robert Cawley

Robert J “Bob” Cawley of Montclair, a retired Labor Leader and 40-year resident,
died on October 31 with his wife and two daughters by his side. He was 95 years
Bob was born in Pittston, PA, a small mining town in the Wilkes Barre-Scranton
area to Joseph and Reva Cawley, and was the proud son of a coal miner who
credited his dad’s union for keeping the family afloat during bad times. A veteran
of WWII, Bob left high school at the age of 17 to join the war effort, and served
with the US Navy Seabees in the Pacific, on the atolls of Eniwetok and Kwajalein
from 1944 – 45. Bob enjoyed telling the story about when he was boarding a ship
for home, he carried a large bag of war memorabilia over his shoulder. It was so
heavy he had trouble climbing the stair rope with it, so someone yelled “Drop the
bag on ship.” Dutifully he dropped the bag – right into the water - leaving only
one little shell in his pocket to give to his dad.
After the Navy, Bob returned to school and graduated from Wyoming Memorial
High School, Wyoming PA, and attended some college before coming to New
Jersey to find work. He worked as a grease cook at Fiske Oil Refinery in the
Ironbound section of Newark for 22 years (1953 -1974) and loved telling great
stories about life at the plant. He often used the expression “hold the fires”
which he first yelled when one of his fellow refinery workers accidentally dropped
his Vet. Admin. dentures into the grease. They were quickly but carefully
During this time Bob became active in his union, with a particular interest in
community service activities, organizing programs such as blood drives and flu
shots. He also served as a shop steward and vice president in Local 8-406 Oil,
Chemical and Atomic Workers Union AFL-CIO of which he was a lifelong member.
In 1974, he was appointed by the Essex-West Hudson Labor Council to serve as
labor’s community service liaison at the United Way of Essex-West Hudson. Bob’s
decision to leave a good union job for a non-profit administrative position was a
real risk, but his commitment to labor and natural talent enabled him to succeed
in his new career. Eventually his strong feelings about labor having its own

Community Service Agency caused him to reach out to the Labor Council, and
with their help and that of the National AFL-CIO, he founded the United Labor
Agency (ULA) in Newark in January of 1979. The non-profit Agency assisted
thousands of union members, their families and local communities with a variety
of innovative programs including Union Counselor Training, Social Security
Advocacy, Adult Literacy, Credit Counseling Services and Employee Assistance
Programs (EAP), to name a few, and the ULA continues to this day.
The EAP services that were begun in cooperation with Mountainside Hospital also
enabled Bob to meet his future wife, Nancy, and they enjoyed 40 wonderful years
Bob served on many community boards such as the North Jersey Blood Bank, the
local American Lung Association, and the regional Health Advisory Committee. He
also received numerous awards and recognition for his contributions to labor and
the community, including an honorary Associate of Arts degree from Essex County
College. A truly decent and humble man who did not play politics, he and his
family always treasured an opening line from one of the dinners held in his honor
-- “It is indeed an honor tonight to finally give an award to someone who really
deserves it.”
Bob retired in 1994 but continued his labor activity as Chairperson of the NJ State
AFL-CIO Retirees Committee, which conducted educational programs and
seminars for retired union members and their families. In 1997 he was recruited
to become a volunteer nursing home advocate under the NJ State Ombudsman
program, and for the next 10 years he assisted vulnerable residents in a nursing
home, visiting multiple times each week. He also established the first Residents
Council Committee helping the home’s residents to advocate for themselves.
Bob always said he had a great life and shared his memories of growing up in a
close-knit small town. A good-natured man, Bob enjoyed many things, including
family and friends, great food and wine, sitting on his deck watching the birds and
his many varieties of coleus, bike trips, hiking in the southwest, annual vacations
on Cape Cod, Wellfleet oysters, contraband caviar, walking his dogs in Mills
Reservation, rides in the country, and cheering on Notre Dame football on TV
(with instructions yelled for the players’ benefit).

And even after he could no longer do many things he enjoyed, Bob was grateful
for every day and worked hard on various exercises to maintain as much
independence as he could. He enjoyed having his daughter Donna living on the
third floor and delighted in the cards and songs on birthdays and holidays
provided by his daughter Nancy’s clients at the Grvenert Center.
Bob, aka “Pop Pop” and “the Poob” (short for Grand Poobah) was very proud of
his family and is survived by his wife, Nancy Miller (whom he affectionately called
“Mildred”), daughters Donna and Nancy, grandchildren Natalie, Ronnie, Emily,
Amanda, and Danielle, great grandchildren and twins Oliver and Amelia, and his
beloved dog Seymour. A celebration of his life will be held in the spring. The
family requests that donations can be made in his honor to Adopt-a-Pet, the Montclair Animal Shelter or the charity of your choice.
Arrangements were made by the Caggiano Memorial Funeral Home.