Obituary: Robert J. ‘Bob’ Cawley
Robert J. “Bob” Cawley of Montclair, a retired labor leader and 40-year township resident, died on Oct. 31, 2022, with his wife and two daughters by his side. He was 95.
Mr. Cawley, affectionately called “Pop Pop” and “the Poob” (short for Grand Poobah) by family members, was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania, a small mining town in the Wilkes Barre-Scranton area, to Joseph and Reva Cawley. He was the son of a coal miner and credited his father’s union for keeping the family afloat during bad times.
He left high school at age 17 to join the Navy Seabees in the Pacific during World War II, on the atolls of Eniwetok and Kwajalein from 1944 to 1945.
After the Navy, Mr. Cawley returned to school and graduated from Wyoming Memorial High School in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, 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 stories about life at the plant.
During this time he 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 Mr. Cawley 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. His decision to leave a good union job for a nonprofit administrative position was a real risk, but his commitment to labor and his 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 its help and that of the national AFL-CIO he founded the United Labor Agency in Newark in 1979.
The nonprofit 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, to name a few, and the ULA continues to this day.
The employee assistance programs that were begun in cooperation with Mountainside hospital enabled him to meet his future wife of 40 years, Nancy.
Mr. Cawley served on many community boards, such as those for the North Jersey Blood Bank, the local chapter of the American Lung Association and the regional Health Advisory Committee. He received numerous awards and recognition for his contributions to labor and the community, including an honorary associate of arts degree from Essex County College.
He retired in 1994 but continued his labor activity as chairperson of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Retirees Committee.
In 1997 he became a volunteer nursing home advocate under the state’s ombudsman program, and for the next 10 years assisted residents in a nursing home. He also established the home’s first Residents Council Committee, helping the residents advocate for themselves.
Mr. Cawley always said he had a great life and shared his memories of growing up in a close-knit small town. A good-natured man, he 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 the Notre Dame football team on TV (with instructions yelled for the players’ benefit).
Even after he could no longer do many things he enjoyed, he was grateful for every day and worked hard on 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 Gruenert Center.
Mr. Cawley 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 be made in his honor to Adopt-a-Pet @adoptapet.com, the Montclair Animal Shelter or the charity of your choice.
Arrangements were by Caggiano Memorial Home for Funerals.