Joe Mangino remembers when the General Electric Company started hiring women at the beginning of World War II. He remembers Helen Quirini in particular.
"She was a great, great lady," Mangino said of Quirini, a longtime GE worker and union activist. "They had to start hiring women because of the war, because they knew the women wouldn't get drafted. And yeah, Helen was something. She was smart; she was tough. She did her share of talking. She was very active in the union."
Mangino, now 99 and living in Glenville, worked alongside Quirini at GE for nearly half a century. He was involved in the union for 40 years, while Quirini spent all of her 39-year career at GE immersed in union issues, until her retirement in 1980. She then spent another 30 years working for pension benefits before passing away in 2010 at the age of 90.
Mary Kuykendall, who worked for GE in human resources and marketing, always thought of herself as being pretty well informed. Then she met Quirini.
"After I wrote an article on the first woman foreman in the GE News, she walked into my office and said, 'You're a dumb college kid; you need to learn a few things,'" remembered Kuykendall. "She told me that the woman was a GE flunkie and that she didn't deserve the job."
Quirini was right, according to Kuykendall.
"The woman was set up by the company, and she really didn't merit the position," said Kuykendall. "So Helen took me down to the shop floor and showed me what the real world was like. Helen was a wonderful woman, and I thank her for helping me wise up early. One of the great pleasures of my long career at GE was watching her win the Gerald Phillippe Award for community service."
Carm DePoalo, another longtime GE employee who rose to the position of business agent for what is now Local 301 IUE-CWA, also remembers Quirini fondly.
"She gave her whole life to this union," said DePoalo, who retired five years ago. "She was an amazing woman, and we have to be thankful for people like her. What she did for the union, her fellow workers and the whole community was incredible. She had a lot of love to go around, and the union was her first love."
Quirini became famous for her confrontations with the GE hierarchy at various stockholder meetings around the country. In 1999 in Cleveland, she directly asked Chairman and CEO Jack Welch to increase the pension for retirees. In 2000, she spoke again, wishing Welch well on his retirement and concluding her speech with, "When the invocation was given, we were asked to pray for the prosperity of the company. Let us also pray for the prosperity of the people who built this company."