Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks by Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Memorial Service for Willard Willard Wirtz
"Remembering the Life, Work and Legacy of Willard ‘Bill’ Wirtz"
Frances Perkins Building, Washington, D.C.
June 3, 2010
I want to thank the family and friends of Bill Wirtz for being here today as we remember and honor his extraordinary life and work.
I couldn't talk about Secretary Wirtz without telling a wonderful story that has been passed down from labor secretary to labor secretary:
During the Johnson Administration, Secretary Wirtz often visited school children around the country to talk about jobs and work.
After one of his presentations, a young girl came up to him and said, "I'm the labor secretary of the 4th grade."
"That's wonderful," Bill replied.
"What does the labor secretary of the 4th grade do?"
"Well," she said, "I clap the erasers, and wash the blackboard, and make sure we always have enough paper and crayons. And at the end of the week, I put all the mess away."
And then the girl asked, "What do you do?"
Bill replied, "Pretty much the same thing."
I asked him about that story last year, when I hosted a reception for him to celebrate his autobiography, which had been recently published.
He thought back for just a few seconds, started to laugh, and admitted the story was true.
And then he whispered to me, "I hope the job has gotten better."
I told him that sometimes I felt like this job was all about clapping erasers.
Our nation's 10th Secretary of Labor knew better.
He was the consummate negotiator and played a significant role in preventing and ending major labor strikes during the 1960s.
He was a vocal advocate for collective bargaining.
As President Johnson's general in the "War on Poverty", he initiated dozens of programs to help at-risk youth, older workers and the unemployed.
And long before the challenges and promise of workers with disabilities entered the public consciousness, both he and his wife Jane were champions and advocates on their behalf.
That work continues here at the Department of Labor and it reflects my passions and commitments as the nation's 25th Secretary of Labor.
On both a personal and professional level, I owe him a debt of gratitude.
One of his most important tasks during his tenure was implementing Labor Department antidiscrimination regulatory responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
40 years after he left office, a Latina and daughter of immigrants sits in his chair. So I want to thank him for that.
I also want to thank him for something else:
Bill Wirtz was part of the team that made public service noble again.
He was what John F. Kennedy talked about when he called on a generation to:
"Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country." He and thousands of others, answered that call.
Now, in just over a year on the job, I've come to learn that history books often forget to mention labor secretaries.
Because Bill Wirtz's legacy lives on in people like me and the 16, 000 dedicated employees at the Department of Labor.
Bill Wirtz's lives on here in this building, with the Wirtz Labor Library. It was my first stop on my very first day in office.
And Bill Wirtz's life and legacy will live on for a very long time in a new award I'm announcing today that will be a permanent part of our annual employee recognition and honor program.
Beginning in 2011, I'm proud to announce that we will launch the Willard Wirtz Award.
This honor will be given to a young DOL employee, an emerging leader, identified by our senior executives, who exemplifies Bill's deep commitment to worker justice and public service.
There isn't a more fitting way to honor him than by lifting up, celebrating and recognizing the smart, talented and dedicated young people that truly keep his legacy alive.
I am grateful to have met Bill Wirtz and I extend my condolences to his family members and friends.
Thank you for being here, and thank you for joining us as we celebrate and remember an amazing man.
This is only the beginning of many celebrations of Bill Wirtz's life and legacy.