Edward M. Smith

Fomer LiUNA Vice President, Midwest Regional Manager and Local 773 President, President and CEO of ULLICO Inc

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Tribute to Edward M. Smith

EDWARD M. SMITH ‘A FIGHTER FOR ALL THAT WAS GOOD’ By SHANNON WOODWORTH MARION — Edward M. Smith — longtime Southern Illinois labor leader — died, January 3, 2024. He was 69. Smith was a graduate of both the Harvard University Trade Union Program and National Labor College. He brought about an impressive expansion to the Laborers’ Local 773 in Marion, a labor union created by his father, Connell, on March 11, 1940. Smith, who, as he often said, “grew up in the union,” took the reins of Laborer’s Local 773 in 1976 following his father’s retirement. Both he and his father lived by this motto, “Who can I help today.” With this motto, Smith expanded programs his father had already put in place and created other programs to help Southern Illinoisans in need. “Ed Smith, like his father, will be best remembered for the deep, abiding respect he had not only for the hard working union members he represented but also for all men and women working hard throughout our region,” said Mark Kochan, a Herrin attorney and longtime friend of Smith. “I would not overestimate by saying that most people in Southern Illinois have had their lives touched by the generosity of Ed Smith and Laborers’ Local 773 in one manner or another.” One of the most notable things Smith and Laborers’ Local 773 helped spearhead was a food distribution program throughout Southern Illinois just after COVID hit. Thousands of desperate families were fed weekly through the program in counties from Jefferson to the north and Alexander to the south. “When the chips were down, Ed Smith was the guy you could depend on,” said Larry Peterson, retired president of Shawnee Community College and current member of the Illinois Community College Board. “He was a fighter for all that was right and good here in Southern Illinois.” Smith also recognized the importance of education and in 1986 he established the Connell F. Smith-Homer Brown Scholarship Fund to assist members with the financial support for their family’s pursuit of higher education. Local 773 has since raised over $700,000 and awarded money to college students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to advance their education. Smith, Laborers’ Local 773, and ULLICO, of which Smith was president and CEO, joined with former Congressman Glenn Poshard to sponsor the inaugural Saluki Ball held in Chicago last year. The event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Saluki students needing assistance with Bursar bills. Smith loved SIU and praised recent efforts at the university that brought about student enrollment increases and other major advances. Smith is a graduate of Shawnee Community College where he played basketball. Before his retirement, Peterson made certain that the College’s gymnasium would bear his name. “When we honored Ed Smith at Shawnee Community College, thousands of people turned out for that event,” Peterson said. “It was a day of pride for the College for having produced such an outstanding student and outstanding person.” Jerry Reppert, longtime journalist and former publisher of the Anna Gazette-Democrat, was part of the crowd that day. “The passing of Ed Smith is a major loss for Southern Illinois and the entire State of Illinois,” Reppert said. “He was not just a powerful leader and benefactor, he was just a really great person inside and out.” On January 3, 2011, Smith was elevated to Chief Executive Officer of Ullico Inc. after serving as its President since May of 2008. Ullico Inc., founded in 1927, provides insurance and financial solutions for labor unions, union employers, union benefit funds, and union members. Prior to becoming President, Smith served as Ullico Inc.’s Executive Vice President from January 2007 until May 2008. Before joining Ullico, Smith also had a long and distinguished career at the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Smith became International Union Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager serving over 58,000 members. He also served as Assistant to the General President. Smith formerly served as Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Investment, Chairman of the National Alliance for Fair Contracting, and a member of the Illinois Department of Labor Advisory Board. He has also been a key benefactor to the Therapy Center in Carterville, Illinois, the Shawnee College Foundation in Ullin, as well as the Connell F. Smith Homer Brown Scholarship Fund in Marion. He was a devoted husband to his wife and closest advisor, Betty, and father to Jordan and Matt. He was also known to spoil his grandchildren and his dog. A loyal friend, Smith would be the first to congratulate you during the exciting moments of success or be there to offer support if you experienced a tragedy. He never knew a stranger and made friends wherever he went. He was an avid reader and found great joy in discussing labor history with any curious listener. A sports fan, he rooted for the Kentucky Wildcats, who also happened to wear his favorite color—blue. Smith had a sweet tooth and carried a particular fondness for chocolate chip cookies. He had a booming voice and an easy laugh.