Stephen Pingry ¡Presenté!

I subscribe to a belief that the leadership of our movements come from the masses. Leaders don’t create movements, movements create leaders. At each critical juncture, the people propel the individual that they need forward. Yesterday, our community lost such a person: Steve Pingry. Steve left this plane yesterday after a defiant battle with cancer. However, his memory will never leave those whom he met. I can’t say that we super close, but we always had the time of day for each other.

Steve served Union Cab as President during a particularly difficult time in our history. He also served with me on the first years of our strategic planning efforts and was committed to changing our culture to a benevolent, accountable and happy workplace. He transitioned into running the dispatch office until he left for the US Post Office. He wasn’t a calming influence, he was a joyful influence. He became president after a particularly quarrelsome year in our co-operative. As we know, co-ops aren’t always worker paradises and it is that trait, that freedom to dissent, that makes our co-ops able to imagine and work towards being such great workplaces. Steve’s demeanor, intellect and sense of humor was the perfect qualities for the leadership of that day. He oversaw a co-operative at war with itself and he kept us together, he helped us be our better selves.

During his time off the board, the troubles boiled as they tend to do, but he provided an oasis in the dispatch office. He made space for our happiness and joy. He always had a quip, a funny place name (a great tradition in the taxi industry that is being erased by computer technology)– the bowling alley behind East Towne was Eastownbul, the University Hospital at the corner of Marsh Rd and Highland Ave was the “Martian Highlands” and many, many others.

I can’t say that I know if Steve drafted some important policy or if he fundamentally changed the dispatch office, but he does have a legacy. He did create a sense of humor in Union Cab–a “We’re laughing together” sense of humor. He created a positive attitude. Since he left us for the Post Office, I can certainly say that when a difficult point developed in a meeting or an interaction, I have tried to find the humor in it. I have tried to find the positive in it. His leadership in our co-op was a very special thing and one that our membership truly needed at that time.

Since Steve left Union, I only saw him sporadically as our social paths did not always cross; however, it was always an entertaining event. In one of the best, he played an old cabbie trick on me–I was at home during a driving shift on an extended break and he had walked by my cab (picking his kids up at the school). He turned on my meter and went on his way. By the time I came out, about $40 dollars had run up. I had no idea who did it, but a few months later I ran into him and he asked me about my write-offs–with a cackle, a grin and a glitter in his eyes. We don’t always talk about our movement in this sense, but we need to enjoy each other, we need to have fun and we need to laugh. Otherwise, we might as well be miserly, miserable corporatists.

It is almost hard to grieve for his loss as it seems more of a gift to have known him at all; however, my heart goes out to his family and friends who were much, much closer than I. He was a great co-operator in the very spirit of co-operation.

Stephen Pingry ¡Presenté!

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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4 Responses to Stephen Pingry ¡Presenté!

  1. mudpie says:

    Very nice, thank you!

  2. A very moving portrait.

  3. Steven D says:

    Late on night many many years ago in the smoking driver’s room of union cab Steve and I sat ‘bending the smoking rules’ as he told me about the highlight of his night that shift. He had picked up one of the regulars, Kathleen, after her weekly mandolin bout for her ride home. Once they arrived at her door Steve explained that he had turned on the inside dome light so she could find her keys per her request. However, she was not able to find them on first attempt. Steve attempted to offer her some advice about her keys but she promptly shushed him and told him she could find her keys herself. He explained that she had propped open her bag on her knees, began to circle her hand slowly over her bag, while chanting Keys….Keys….Keys in a loud voice. At this point in the story Steve began chanting Keys….Keys…Keys in a close approximation of Kathleen’s voice. He said she abruptly stopped and dropped her hand into her bag pulling out a set of keys. “there, i told you I could find them” is all she said to Steve and got out of the cab to go in. Steve looked up at this point in the story and said the only part he didn’t have the heart to tell her was her key ring was attached to the outside of her purse in plain view. Years later i told this story to a friend of mine who worked with Steve at the Post Office and urged him to do the keys…keys…keys…chant over his open mail bag some time while with Steve. When I saw my friend a few months later I asked the outcome of the Keys chant over the mailbag. My friend smiled and told me as he was doing the chant that Steve was looking at him with a horrified expression and then blurted out…How the hell do you know Davison?!? Which led to a long discussion between them about the smallness of the world. The world is a smaller place today because of the love Mr. Pringry shared with all of us by showing us all how incredible a journey life is. RIP P. Your music will always be in all of our hearts.

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