Long-time OSSTF/FEESO activists will know the name Larry French and may even know the man himself. Other members may simply recognize the name because it, along with Wendell Fulton’s, graces one of the most prestigious provincial awards that can be bestowed upon a member: the Political Action Award—In Honour of Wendell Fulton and Larry French “is presented annually to a member who has shown outstanding leadership in political action either within the Federation or through work with political parties, other unions or labour councils.”
Larry’s memoir, Man on the Move, tracks his life from his birth in Swastika in Northern Ontario, through his childhood/adolescence in Kirkland Lake, his post-secondary schooling at Queen’s University and the Sorbonne in Paris, France, his teaching career (and brief stint as a Vice-Principal) mostly in Sault Ste. Marie, his exemplary work as a member of the OSSTF/FEESO secretariat from 1985 until his retirement in 1997, and finally his life since then, split between Canada and Switzerland. His writing is lyrical and intimate, his memory prodigious and there are references to poetry and films—two of his loves—in English and in French sprinkled throughout.
His tales of his schooling and his exploits as a student and as a teacher are interesting and often amusing, but it is the insight into some very dramatic years of OSSTF/FEESO history that is the true fascination for the union junkie! And, as it is for all those who take up leadership positions in this union, the OSSTF/FEESO motto, “Let us not take thought for our separate interests but let us help one another,” was Larry’s modus operandi.
Reading those chapters of his memoir is like being a fly on the wall as he regales his “dear readers” with such tales as the first ever OSSTF/FEESO Election Desk in April 1985, where the key issue was extension of full funding to separate secondary schools. Future battles included the pension fight against the Peterson Liberals in the late 1980s, the fight against the Rae NDP’s Social Contract in 1993, and finally the Days of Action against the Harris Tories. As Larry explained to one MPP in 1987, “when OSSTF/FEESO took up arms it was usually in reaction to government initiatives that we perceived to be destructive to public education.”
That this continues to be true even today is, in essence, part of Larry’s legacy to this union.