Gladys D. Greene, a retired president of an aircraft electrical workers union who once said the "best social program is a job and the best job is an aerospace job," died of septic shock Saturday at Harbor Hospital. The Mount Winans resident was 82.
Born Gladys Delores Boone on a farm that was later developed into the Cherry Hill neighborhood, she attended segregated, four-room Mount Winans Elementary School, which she called "the cheesebox." She completed Harvey Johnson Junior High School.
"She was only in high school briefly, but she became known for her oratory skills and impeccable diction," said her husband of 61 years, Willie Henry Greene.
As a teenager, Mrs. Greene began work as a short-order cook at the old Thomas and Thompson drugstore lunch counter at Baltimore and Light streets.
Seeking a higher paying job, she took up aircraft riveting at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River and soon joined Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Linthicum. She became active in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1805 in 1956 and remained a union stalwart until retiring more than 40 years later.
"After about a year," Mrs. Greene said in a union publication, "I decided to run for shop steward, but the election for membership on the executive board came up first and I decided to run for that position. Even though I was a virtual unknown, to my astonishment I won."
While at Westinghouse, she was a wireman, a term for those who did electrical wiring for radar systems.
"She had a brilliant mind and was very well-spoken," said Mary McCracken, a former co-worker and union secretary, who lives in Roanoke, Va. "She projected herself beautifully. People were naturally drawn to Gladys."
In 1981, Mrs. Greene became her union's president and became an advocate for low-income city residents and social programs to provide them the opportunity for economic and social mobility, her husband said. She held the presidency for four terms of four years, retiring in 1997.
"Local 1805 was very active in politics, local and national," Mrs. Greene said in an interview in a union publication. "With the defense work we were in, it was necessary to become involved politically and we kept our members working."
She also attended national union councils and visited other states. She told of a time she arrived at a plant where the restrooms were still racially segregated.
She also arranged the purchase of her local's Airport Park Road headquarters, where a banquet hall is named in her honor.
She also worked with the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and an institute named for labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whom she once met at a Baltimore conference.
Services are scheduled at 11 a.m. Thursday at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe Street, where she was a member.
In addition to her husband, survivors include a son, the Rev. Darrell S. Greene Sr. of Lochearn, pastor of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Church in Columbia; a daughter, Aleta T. Greene of Baltimore; a half-sister, Gloria Davis of Baltimore; and a grandson. A son, Ernest A. Robinson Jr., died in 1994.