John LaSpina, a Newsday pressman for more than four decades and an outspoken labor union leader from Hicksville, died Friday from cancer. He was 76.
LaSpina succumbed to liver cancer at a Melville hospice after enduring 14 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, said Toni LaSpina, his wife of 53 years.
For 44 years, he worked on Newsday's printing press, part of a team of graveyard-shift workers with ink-stained hands tasked with making sure the day's news got published. For the better part of his career, he was a leader of GCC/IBT Local 406, which represents Newsday editorial and production staff.
In 1995, when Newsday management announced it was closing New York Newsday and some 700 to 800 people would lose their jobs, LaSpina was the union's secretary-treasurer, a top leadership position alongside then-president George Tedeschi.
Mike LaSpina, the current president of Local 406, said his brother worked to get employees lucrative buyouts instead of layoffs, which the union considered to be a big win.
"No one got laid off, they all took buyouts," said Mike LaSpina. "That was one of his biggest accomplishments. He was very proud no one got laid off."
John Anthony LaSpina was born Oct. 20, 1942, in the Bronx. His father, who served in the Army in Germany during World War II, placed his son in a foundling home when he went off to war. LaSpina's mother had abruptly left the family earlier. He was raised for several years by foster parents in Floral Park until he was eight years old, when he reunited with his father. LaSpina kept in touch with his foster parents until they died.
LaSpina joined the Army and was stationed for two years in Tacoma, Washington, during the Vietnam War. He earned a GED diploma in the Army.
He met his wife in a Flushing, Queens, bowling alley in 1959. She was captivated by his "big brown eyes with long lashes," she said.
“The first thing I noticed about him was those eyes," Toni LaSpina recalled Monday. "I see those eyes, and I said, 'that’s a sincere guy,' and he sure was. He had a smile that would light up the room.”
Her brother and another family member worked in the Newsday pressroom, then a smoky, rough-and-tumble boys club, and helped John LaSpina get a job.
In 1964, he started his Newsday career as a "flyboy," catching the papers as they came off the presses and loading the heavy wads into trucks for delivery.
He worked for four years as an apprentice, then became a journeyman pressman. He soon was the shop steward of his bargaining unit and the chairman of the pressroom. In 1984, he became secretary-treasurer, a post he held until he retired in 2008.
His meeting minutes during union negotiations, his brother and wife said, were almost legendary.
"He used to take excellent minutes," said Toni LaSpina. "I don’t know how he did it. He used to scribble on the papers. He would come home and type them up."
When he wasn't working, he golfed and went to casinos with his brother.
"He loved golfing, slot machines and buffets," Mike LaSpina said with a laugh.
Besides his wife and brother, LaSpina is survived by his son John LaSpina, of Bellmore, his daughter Christie Rickey, of Massapequa Park, siblings Barbara Lucchese, Vincent LaSpina, Thomas LaSpina, Stephan LaSpina, Paul LaSpina, and Maureen Altieri and four grandchildren.
Visitation is planned from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Fredrick J. Chapey & Sons Funeral Home Inc., 20 Hicksville Rd., Bethpage.
A funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 10:15 a.m. at St. James R.C. Church, 80 Hicksville Rd., Seaford.