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A big life, all too brief

If you work hard and deserve a break, or believe others do, labor organizer and political strategist Chris Condon dedicated his life to you.

Chris Condon.

Maybe you didn’t know Chris Condon, but he knew you.

If you work hard and deserve a break, or believe others do, Condon dedicated his life to you.

He was central to so many of the big battles to make Massachusetts more just for those who do its toughest jobs — social workers, health care workers, and educators among them. The union organizer and political strategist had a way of drawing everyone into a common orbit. At its center was his core belief that every single person deserves dignity: decent wages, better sick leave, stronger child care, and fairer taxation.

“He has helped millions of working families in Massachusetts, and the majority of people will never know his name, and that’s the way he wanted it,” said his friend Bridget Quinn, who worked with Condon when he was political director at SEIU Local 509.

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Condon, 46, died on Jan. 30, after the cancer he thought he’d bested last year came roaring back.

He adored his wife, Meghan, and their kids, Cam and Claire, whom he talked about with wonder and pride. A master negotiator, he was admired not just by his allies, but by those across the table, too.

“There never was any BS with him, no grandstanding,” said JD Chesloff, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, who negotiated the state’s paid family medical leave policy with Condon. “It was just really honest conversation, and ‘How do we get to the next step?’”

Condon was also hilarious in meetings, a genius at breaking tension with deadpan humor, or by ragging on colleagues who he knew could take it. He was brilliant and loved to win arguments, so good at marshaling evidence to his cause that it was hardly any use taking him on. He had such a mastery of data that he could look at crosstabs from a poll and instantly predict who would win a local election.

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“I hated being against him in political races,” said his friend Scott Zoback, a former state Senate staffer who is now a consultant for progressive causes. “He was so good, it made me question whether I was with the right person.”

Condon roped Zoback, and many others, into coaching basketball at Worcester’s St. Peter’s Church. Coaching doesn’t quite cover what Condon did there: He helped raise kids, too. He helped some of them learn to drive, guided them into and through college, steered them into their first jobs. He was always sending notes asking his friends and colleagues to help this or that person he’d coached, or run into, or overheard at Annie’s Clark Brunch on Main Street. He’d call people up and say, “I have a crazy idea,” and suggest some bold stand or herculean organizing effort, or a run for office. And people would agree to try it, because Condon made people feel like they could do anything.

Representative Jim O’Day got one of those calls in 2007. A social worker active in the union, O’Day had worked on a political campaign with Condon. Now Condon wanted O’Day to run for a vacant legislative seat, and he laid out the path to victory with such authority that O’Day said yes — and won.

“He did so many things for so many people without one lick of an expectation or ... ego,” O’Day said.

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He convinced social worker and youth basketball coach Khrystian King to work on that campaign, and plenty of others, then he persuaded King to run for office, too, and directed King’s strategy. In 2015, King won a seat on the City Council, the first Black man elected to city government in Worcester in 80 years. He helped Jermaine Johnson, also a social worker, become the first Black member of Worcester’s School Committee in 2021. It was vital to Condon that those who hadn’t had a seat at the table get one.

“I think of him as a difference-maker,” King said. “He definitely was for me. So many people are connected because of one person.”

On Wednesday night, some of the many Chris Condon connected crowded into a memorial service in Worcester to remember the person who changed the lives of uncounted people, even if they didn’t know him.

How lucky are those who did.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her @GlobeAbraham.