LAFAYETTE HILL, Pa. (CBS) – Wendell Young III, a long-time union leader and labor giant in the Delaware Valley, passed away in his Lafayette Hill, Montgomery County home Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 74.

In 1962 Young started his 43-year-stint as leader of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 which has expanded to represent 24,000 workers in retail, food processing and Pennsylvania’s Wine & Spirit stores among other industries.

“He lived a full life, a very complicated one,” said his son and current president of UFCW Local 1776 Wendell Young IV. “But he was always dedicated to improving the lives of others. I learned so much from him. I say they were big shoes to fill. I’ve stepped into them since I became president but I’ll never be able to fill them like he did.”

He was known as a champion for workers’ rights, being a skilled negotiator and supporter of a $1 billion employee ownership bid of ACME markets, along with the labor deal that started Super Fresh markets.

“That’s the kind of thing that marked his life. When those lines were drawn in the sand he would push past them. He fought for civil rights and women’s rights. He was against the war in Vietnam,” Young IV explained. “He drove his heart but for a good cause. He often said, ‘these aren’t jobs these are lifestyles and if you understand that, it really is rewarding.'”

A St. Joseph’s University alumnus, Young served as an adjunct professor at the university and remained a die-hard Hawks basketball fan.

“One of the things he got to really enjoy last month is getting together with some of my brothers and going to his last St. Joe’s game. It was hard on him physically, no doubt, but he just loves St. Joe’s,” Young IV said.

Condolences and praise came in from local politicians. In a statement, Mayor Nutter said the labor community, “lost one of its great leaders,” and called Young a “truly good man.”

Congressman Bob Brady said Young “saved the jobs of thousands of his union members.”

Congressman Chaka Fattah said Young, “never lost sight of the greater good of the entire Philadelphia community.”

He’s survived by his wife Katherine, six sons and 13 grandchildren.

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