By  on August 9, 2005

NEW YORK — In light of last month's death of longtime union advocate Shelley Appleton, his wife, Jean Dubinsky, looked back on his commitment to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the lives he touched along the way.

The native New Yorker was 86 when he died. Appleton earned a Bronze Star serving in the Army Air Forces in World War II. He had a law degree, but instead of practicing, he spent 43 years working for the union, rising up the ranks to general secretary-treasurer in 1977. Along the way, he married the daughter of the legendary union leader David Dubinsky.

Appleton was chairman of the Organization of Rehabilitation Through Training from 1980 to 1993. In 1986, he was named president of the Tamiment Institute, a center for scholarly research on labor history and radical political movements.

Jean Dubinsky and Appleton met while standing in line to enroll for classes at New York University, where she was an undergrad and he was a law student. Like Appleton, Dubinsky entered college shy of her 16th birthday. "We were in line and he was whistling Tchaikovsky. I turned around and saw these blue eyes — very nice ones indeed — and we became friends," she said, although years passed before they married.

After earning his law degree, Appleton did not "have the slightest desire to earn a lot of money," preferring to devote himself to working for other people, his wife said. He began his career as an organizer for the ILGWU, which called for trips to Binghamton, N.Y., and Oneonta, N.Y.

Max Zimny, former general counsel for the ILGWU, said, "He was admired and liked on both sides of the table, and that made him quite effective. He could be tough as hell when he wanted to be. But even when he was tough, people would respect him."

When World War II started, Appleton enlisted with a few friends. Although he was based in England and didn't see combat, he earned several citations, including a Bronze Star, for analyzing economic problems in the Eighth Air Force. During the war, he and Dubinsky wrote letters to stay in touch. Their correspondence continued when she relocated to Georgia with her first husband, a captain and doctor in the Air Force.

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