MADISON — Ed Garvey, who led National Football League players through two strikes but came back to Wisconsin to fight for workers, prison inmates and the environment, died Wednesday morning at a nursing home in Verona, according to his close friend, retired Capital Times Editor Dave Zweifel.
Garvey also ran twice for statewide political office, securing the Democratic nomination to challenge then-Sen. Bob Kasten in 1986 and then-Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998, but fell short in both contests. Garvey later founded Fighting Bob Fest, an annual event celebrating progressive politics, and despite his illness, spoke at the event in September.
“Ed never gave up the fight,” Zweifel said. “He relished a good fight. He lived a life that makes me jealous, actually. He helped so many people fight so many causes.”
Garvey, 76, died from Parkinson’s disease, which he had battled for several years, Zweifel said, and had increasingly frustrated him as it curtailed his quick wit.
“He was a lot of fun to campaign with,” said Barbara Lawton, a Waterford native who was Garvey’s running mate during his campaign for governor. “He was creative. I learned so much. I can’t begin to measure how much I learned.”
Garvey was born in Burlington. At UW-Madison he served as president of the U.S. National Student Association and was involved in the civil rights movement. He served in the Army for two years, and returned to UW-Madison to attend law school. After graduating, he took a job with Lindquist & Vennum, a labor law firm in Minneapolis, where he helped organize and later became the first executive director of the National Football League Players Association.
Garvey remained with the NFLPA from 1971 to 1983, and led the union through two strikes, including a 57-day stoppage in 1982, when NFL teams hired replacement players to play for part of the season.
After leaving the NFLPA, Garvey returned to Wisconsin to become deputy attorney general under Bronson La Follette, a post he held for two years before entering private law practice and politics. Garvey lost his senate bid to Kasten 52 to 48 percent, and his later run for governor 60 to 39 percent.
Glenn Stoddard, who now practices law in Bayfield, was Garvey’s law partner in Madison for about 10 years, starting in 1995.
“He was a great lawyer and a great human being,” said Stoddard. “He was an intelligent man, extremely motivated to fight the good fight for the little guy whose civil rights were being trampled by government or big business.”
Garvey’s work in a 2000 lawsuit brought on behalf of inmates at the Supermax prison in Boscobel led to a settlement that helped address the basic needs of inmates and barred mentally ill inmates from being placed at Supermax. He fought against a large water bottler who sought to build a plant in Adams County near Wisconsin Dells that was to pump hundreds of gallons of water per minute from local aquifers.
Garvey worked to stop a zinc and copper mine near the northern Wisconsin city of Crandon, and also intervened in a massive settlement with tobacco companies, fighting to lower the amount of money that law firms were paid for their work in the case.
“He had quite a lot of success taking a case that a lot of other firms wouldn’t get into,” Stoddard said. “Ed was very energetic and he was creative. I think he was one of the most creative lawyers that I have ever known.”
Garvey wrote regularly for the Progressive, a Madison-based national liberal-minded journal, for many years, said its editor, Ruth Conniff. She first met him while she was an intern at the magazine in 1988.
“Ed was one of the wittiest people I’ve met in my life,” Conniff said. “He had this wonderful Irish sense of humor.”
But more importantly, he was “an advocate for people who needed an advocate,” she said. “He would go to bat for people who didn’t have a lot of power.”
Lawton said she met Garvey after she ran for state Senate in 1996. She said he asked her in 1997 to be part of the Citizens Panel on a Clean Elections Option, kind of a counter to the then-operating Kettl Commission, which held meetings around the state on the functioning of state government. Later that year, Lawton said, she and Garvey announced their run for governor and lieutenant governor.
The campaign had a $100 per donor limit, which was swamped by the money raised by Thompson.