Deceased August 8, 2004
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I didn’t know Tom Sheibley while we were both at AmherstCollege. Few of the class of 1975 did, I suspect. Tom came to our College from Bridgewater-RaynhamHigh School in Bridgewater, MA, while most of us were just entering our own secondary schools. He first enrolled at AmherstCollege as a freshman in the fall 1971 term. He withdrew at the end of that academic year and didn’t return until most of us were juniors, at the start of the 1977-78 school year. Thus, he knew a somewhat broader spectrum of fellow students than is usual. We keenly regret his death on August 8, 2004.
No, I didn’t know Tom then, but I wish I did. We had similar academic interests—both of us studying capitalism, American society, and economics, though he was also a terrific math student. And as I learned later, we also shared a passion for worker justice and democracy. I suspect that we would have had a lot to talk about.
Tom moved the people he touched—moved them deeply. He was an ordained minister who graduated from the Harvard Theological Seminary. He gave up his ministry and got a job driving for one of the largest freight companies in North America. Tom was committed to the ideology that working class people deserve to be treated fairly both by their employers and by their unions. He was a rank and file activist with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), giving much of himself for that cause. He moved from eastern Massachusetts to Detroit to continue the struggle. He was living there when he died two years ago.
A fellow Massachusetts Teamster, Jim Jacob, recalls that although Tom was a private, quiet person, he “couldn’t stand being around” mistreatment of people. Jim said that the brutal way that Tom’s trucking employer treated its workers deeply affected Tom. “When someone got fired, you could see how it bothered him.” Jim remembered that Tom “took it to heart, took it personally” when a driver was illegally fired shortly after reporting safety violations to OSHA.
Tom was one of those rare communicators who could speak with a passionate eloquence about working class struggles to college educated intellectuals while in his next breath speak of the sometimes lofty concepts of freedom, justice, and worker democracy in a plain and powerful voice that motivated rank-and-file truckers to action. He spoke with a cool anger that resonated with both the NPR listener and the Teamster. See http://www.npr.org/search.php?text=sheibley for his NPR commentaries.
Tom and I planned and served on a panel for the 20th Reunion on careers in social change. Tom recounted his career as a truck driver, rank and file activist with TDU, and radio columnist. I was impressed by his humility and his cool, burning anger at the unfairness that others experienced. We who fight for justice need more allies like Tom. The cause of workers everywhere was enriched by his contributions and will be diminished by his passing.
—Ashley Adams ’79