Joan Murphy Casement, a former public school teacher in Providence and Barrington, former President of the Barrington Teachers Association and an active member of the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI), died on Monday, April 11 at the Philip Huiltar Hope and Hospice Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
Joan was the mother of Caitlin B. Casement of Burbank, California. She was the sister of Anne O'Brien (John), Neale D. Murphy Jr., Frances M. Araujo, John Austin Murphy (Mary Jane) and Robert M. Murphy.
She was also the aunt of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice Executive Director Michael Araujo, who spoke of his memories of his aunt and her influence on him and others in the Rhode Island labor movement at Jobs with Justice's recent 20th Anniversary Awards Dinner.
Michael Araujo: My aunt was born Joan Murphy in Jamestown, Rhode Island in 1935. She was beatnik from the 50's who lived on Benefit Street above an opium den. But she was also a teacher, a Providence Public Schools teacher. She taught at Nathan Bishop for a very long time. When she met her partner and became pregnant, they tried to fire her, because back then teachers didn't get pregnant. That's when she became a union activist.
She became an active and aggressive member of NEARI, from that day forward, and worked to expand the strength of that union in a way that all of us should hope to do in our various organizations.
My earliest memories of her were as a four year old stuffing envelopes for a contract campaign for public education to establish better funding for special ed kids. We did this in a little pizza shack in Pawtucket that was kind of abandoned. The whole place smelled like grease. I had to lick the envelopes. Because I had to lick all the envelopes at the end I got a soda, which was a pretty big deal.
I grew up in the union halls. I grew up with NEARI, but I also grew up with her respecting the private sector trades as well. She believed firmly that all unions served one purpose, and that is to make the working class stronger in every possible way. That means that we don't look to a diminished version of what we do. We look for the maximum version of what's possible all the time. We don't fight for minimum wages; we fight for maximum wages. We need to carry that strength with us every day.
She also taught me the value of political education throughout the entire process. It is not just working in your union, but it is also working for democracy, little "d" democracy.
She was an activist with the Equal Rights Amendment when that was going on. We went to Washington many times to picket, protest, and to go to anyone that would listen to talk to us about how all people are equal, and it is time for our country to actually acknowledge that. I also remember going with her to an AFL national convention where they actually discussed going on strike nationally in support of the PATCO strikers.
She was committed to unions, and she was my mentor and somebody I loved a great deal. I know there are probably some people in this room whose lives were touched by her even if they didn't get a chance to know her.