Remembering Labor Advocate and Fighting BobFest founder Ed Garvey

As most of you have probably heard, Wisconsin lost an amazing progressive leader this week, Ed Garvey, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Though it was a struggle for him to make it to the stage, most of us saw Ed during his appearance at September's Fighting BobFest, as he offered a heartfelt and inspiring call to action. Ed's speech at about 79:00 into the speeches found here:

Ed is probably best known to many people as a former candidate for governor and US Senate, but the depth and breadth of his overall work goes well beyond that, as a lifelong advocate for economic justice and workers' rights, including service as the director of the NFL player's association, and continuing into his important role as an organizer of the WI Uprising six years ago.

Forward Forum tribute show to Ed Garvey, with special guests Mike McCabe and Matt Rothschild, and Joe and Joann Elder, can view it here at

Ed was there from the beginning for WNPJ, working alongside his dear friend, WNPJ's co-founder and original co-chair, Nan Cheney (who we lost in April 2010), who also ran his campaign for governor against Tommy Thompson in the 1990s. At the time, Ed joined me and other community leaders (including WNPJ's Bonnie Block, and longtime WNPJ supporter Joann Elder) on a special A Public Affair tribute to Nan. I listened to this show again last night, and it was wonderful to hear both Ed and Nan again in their own voices, reflecting on their lifetimes of valuable work on behalf of social justice. If you're interested, you can listen to that show here:

Matt Rothschild (former Progressive Magazine editor, now E.D. at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, shared these reflections about Ed on Facebook yesterday.

  • I've been mourning the passing of Ed Garvey all day today. He was our teacher, our preacher, and sometimes our comedian. He foreshadowed the direction the Democratic Party needs to go in, and he was a mentor to a couple generations of activists. This is a huge loss....My heart goes out to Betty, and the entire Garvey family. And to his closest friends, among them Dave Zweifel and Barbara Lawton and John Matthews, and John Nichols and Mary Bottari. And to those who looked up to him with such reverence, including Lily Johnson and Sue Holmes and Sarah Lloyd and so many more. Thank you, Ed, for holding high the banner of progressivism for so long!

CapTimes emeritus editor Dave Zweifel had this to say in his own tribute at

  • Ed Garvey, an icon among Wisconsin’s progressives and longtime nationally known labor attorney, died this morning at a Verona nursing home where he had been living the past two weeks. He was 76.

    Garvey, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and its Law School, was the National Football League Players Association’s counsel and executive director from 1970 to 1983, leading the players through two strikes in 1974 and 1982, and then returning to Madison in 1983 as assistant to then Attorney General Bronson La Follette. He left the AG’s office for private practice as a labor attorney, often representing principled causes pro bono because of his steadfast belief in helping the beleaguered “little guy.”

    In 1986 he ran as a Democrat against then incumbent Republican Sen. Robert Kasten, losing the race by a 52-48 margin. In 1998, with Barbara Lawton as his lieutenant governor running mate, he took on incumbent Gov. Tommy Thompson, but lost after a bruising campaign.

    Garvey was a founder of the annual progressive political event known as Fighting Bob Fest and for several years ran, a website that featured progressive political content and a daily blog that he wrote.

    He had been battling Parkinson’s Disease the past several years, which caused him to retire from his law practice and close the site. He was well enough last fall to make an appearance before the Fighting Bob Fest crowd at Madison’s Breese Stevens Field.

    He is survived by his wife Betty and three daughters, Pam, Kathleen and Lizzy.

    Information about funeral arrangements are forthcoming from Cress Funeral Service in Madison.

    Source URL:

In the process of researching the anniversary documentaries I produced about WNPJ, I ran across the photo of Ed and Nan that you see here. He will be greatly missed, but never forgotten. Let's all strive to continue to live out his legacy through our work on behalf of peace and justice at WNPJ. Many of you also no doubt knew and loved Ed, and I encourage you to share your own memories with WNPJ at

John L. Quinlan
WNPJ Board Member