Tributes To Sandy Boyer, RIP

From The Broken Elbow coverage of the celebration of the life of the late Sandy Boyer.

  • Thank you to everyone who participated in the celebration of Sandy Boyer’s life of political activism. Many people wrote tributes on the Internet, on websites, or sent by mail. We read many of these at the memorial event in Theatre 80 on April 17th, but we could not fit them all in. I would like to share these thoughts with everyone, so they are presented below, in the order that we received them. Thank you, Joan McKiernan

WBAI Mourns The Passing Of Radio Free Eireann Host Sandy Boyer: From Co-host John McDonagh:

I am so sad to relay that Sandy Boyer passed away on 2/11/16 after a brief illness. His commitment to Radio Free Eireann was unwavering – his attempts to host the last show were nothing short of heroic, and he collapsed after leaving the station.

His life was dedicated to trying to make the world a better place by being a voice for the voiceless, especially political prisoners. He was my colleague and comrade, but most importantly to my wife and me, a true and loyal friend.

The 1916 Societies offer condolences to the family and friends of Sandy Boyer who died on Thursday:


Having learned this morning of the untimely death of Sandy Boyer (pictured above right), yesterday in New York City, the 1916 Societies send deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. 

Sandy has been a true friend to the Republican Movement in Ireland and we are thankful for his efforts throughout the years. May he rest in peace.

Colin Broderick:

Shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Sandy Boyer. No matter what I was working on; book, play, movie, Sandy was always one of the first people to contact me to see if he could help me get the word out on Radio Free Eireann. Thanks Sandy, Thanks for all the support. Thanks for all that you gave. Rest in Peace.

Richard O’Rawe, friend and biographer of Gerry Conlon:

Sandy and Gerry were two giants in the fight for the small person’s right to justice. Their passing has been a catastrophic loss to us all. Sandy and Gerry, almost single-handedly, secured the release of the Birmingham Six when they cajoled and conspired to persuade Congress to ask the British government to re-examine the case.

Gerry Conlon (r) interviewed on WBAI by Sandy & John McDonagh
Gerry Conlon (r) interviewed on WBAI by Sandy & John McDonagh

Daniel O’Halloran:

Our family friend, Sandy. Helped us move from Cobble Hill to Park Slope over 35 years ago, huffing, puffing and sweating, and ever with the smile. An chuid eile i Síochána amháin daor, a ligean ar an gcomhrac dul ar aghaidh.

We remember you.

Brian Trench (Dublin):

Very sorry to hear of Sandy’s death. Over many years, he visited comrades and friends in Ireland on regular tours. We had stimulating political discussions. He was one of the good guys, who resisted dogma, but was steadfast.

The Pensive Quill:

That silenced voice, that empty chair …. a loss to freedom of expression and public understanding that those of us who worked with him will need time to both measure and contemplate. We at TPQ are deeply saddened by his death.

Mike Fleshman:

I worked with Sandy for many years at the anti-apartheid American Committee On Africa, and have lived just across the courtyard for many years. He was a former coop board member and a good friend and neighbor and he is missed.
Mike Fleshman addresses the memorial ceremony at Theatre 80

Sandy made major contributions to the anti-apartheid movement via his work with the American Committee On Africa (ACOA) in New York. Hired primarily for his skill as a writer and fundraiser, he was instrumental in helping to design and launch ACOA’s labor solidarity campaign in the 1980s, as a new generation of South African trade unionists emerged to challenge the racist regime on the shopfloor. The Labor Desk sought to promote US labor solidarity with their South African counterparts by promoting and supporting direct union-to-union links, touring black South African labor leaders throughout the United States, engaging rank-and-file and pan-union organizations like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Black Workers for Justice and establishing municipal and statewide labor committees against apartheid in Illinois, New York, and many other cities. His wide range of contacts and keen grasp of union politics was key in helping to expand labor’s role in the wider US anti-apartheid movement and neutralizing the corrosive effect of the anti-communist AFL-CIO international department’s efforts to weaken the revolutionary South African labor movement and deflect worker support for anti-apartheid sanctions, disinvestment and corporate campaigns in the United States.

Frances Burns, former member of the International Socialists and Taxi Rank and File:

Sandy was a dedicated and hard-working political activist. He was also an extraordinarily kind person. During one big march on Washington, I’d been having a bad day and as the IS post-march event at a church in Washington was about to begin I completely lost it, crying uncontrollably. Sandy sat me down in a back pew and stayed with me with his arm around me until I was through. He did not cross-examine me about what was the matter or berate me for my lack of self-control.

He did not make a big deal about it but I think he also had health problems starting when he was quite young. In the late 1970s, a group of us, including Sandy, decided to go on an overnight hike in the Catskills. It turned out Sandy had high blood pressure and had not realized, because it did not cause him problems in the city, that it would be a major problem on a trail that went over 3 mountains. He had a terrible time but he persisted and finished the hike, although we ended up leaving his sleeping bag and some of his other possessions on the side of the trail.

Malachy McAllister pays tribute to Sandy’s efforts to stop his deportation

Republican Sinn Féin:

Like all in the Republican community both in Ireland and the US will remember Sandy fondly as a man who gave a voice to the oppressed, Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, Sandy!

Maggie Trainor, Cumann na Saoirse:

Sandy received the 2009 Sr Sarah Clarke Human Rights Award from Cumann na Saoirse/National Irish Freedom Committee, an award he was most proud of and Sandy facilitated Cumann na Saoirse hosting Gerry Conlon to the US for the 2013 Sr Sarah Clarke Award.

Danny Shaw:

On behalf of the ANSWER Coalition and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, we express our deepest condolences and our redoubled commitment to live as Sandy lived, fighting for the self-determination of all oppressed people.

Mary Pike – lawyer for Joe Doherty

David Finkel, Managing editor of Against the Current, Detroit MI:

Remembering Sandy Boyer

Sandy contacted me last year regarding connections between water rights struggles in Detroit (where there are thousands of shutoffs) and Ireland. It was a great pleasure to re-connect and to get on Sandy’s extensive email list. His death is a great loss to us all.

I was able to work with Sandy during the mid-1970s at the national office of the International Socialists in Detroit, which at the time was still a major industrial city. For an inveterate New Yorker like Sandy, coming to the Midwest was a serious trek. In addition to politics, we shared common interests in baseball and jazz – both of our apartments stuffed with our expanding LP collections following regular expeditions to used record stores.

If the Detroit jazz club scene was not on the Big Apple’s scale, it was solid in its own right. Sandy’s jazz tastes were firmly rooted in classic bebop, while mine stretch to the “avant-garde,” but we greatly enjoyed the wealth of talent on the Detroit scene.

I always wished Sandy would write more. Whatever he produced – on South Africa, on the Irish movement, on labor or any other topic of interest – was solid, thoughtful and devoid of excessive verbiage or rhetoric. His purpose was always to reach an audience, never to show off his own knowledge.

And Sandy was knowledgeable – as I learned especially during the southern Africa liberation and solidarity movements of the 1970s. Nationalist politics, as we know all too well from multiple examples, can be both intractably complex and incredibly vicious. Both while he was in Detroit and while working with the American Committee on Africa, Sandy understood who was who and what was what in the liberation struggles, viewing them without rose-colored glasses while maintaining the primary focus of principled anti-imperialism.

His life of commitment to socialism and democracy is a legacy we need to uphold and carry on.

Seth Goldman extemporises with a witty song at Sandy’s memorial

Kate Nash of the Bloody Sunday March Families:

The news of Sandy’s passing is all over the Internet now and so many people are acknowledging the sadness of his loss. He gave a voice to so many and that gratitude is reverberating through Ireland. My own personal view of this lovely man is how much he cared about all the same issues that are an embodiment of what The Bloody Sunday March stands for. Sandy Boyer was such a champion for Ireland but more than that, he was a champion for Human Rights and Equality for all. The world will be a sadder place without him. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all he has done in his life and we can best honour his memory by continuing to fight injustice wherever we find it. I am so sorry for your loss and please pass my sincere condolences to Sandy’s family and friends.

Dan Kane, Teamster leader:

I appreciate your thoughtfulness in conveying the sad news of my friend Sandy’s death. I knew him over thirty years and had worked on labor, Mandela and Irish Arts Center issues; and, I am sure, others that I just can’t recall now. He was a gentle but solid soul. Our paths would widen and then the phone would ring as if we were gabbing with each other the day before. We knew our common ground and helped each other accordingly. I will miss him. The best movements will miss him. He made a difference.

Alan Mass, Editor, Socialist Worker:

I knew of Sandy a lot longer than I knew him. I became a socialist some years after the high tide of the left in the 1970s, but being interested in journalism and revolutionary news papers, I tracked down old Workers Power newspapers, and saw his byline. So I was happy and proud when my comrade Shaun Harkin got Sandy to start writing for the newspaper I work on, Socialist Worker.
Sandy was old school—he wrote with the same crisp, vivid, alive-and-kicking style I remembered. He had the ability to make complex ideas immediately understandable, without losing their richness, and he made protests and political events come alive. I recommended him many times as an example to follow for socialists who were new to writing. SW’s coverage of the Irish struggle was vastly enhanced, and he cut through the fog of details and statistics on any number of issues related to New York City’s social crisis, especially housing. But really, he was able to take on any question and find the kernel that mattered.

I know people at the memorial will know a lot more of Sandy’s political life, but this is what I knew best, and I feel like we have a lot to live up to from his example. But when I read and remember his contributions, I look forward to that task with a smile. Thanks Sandy. We already miss you. But we’ll try to do you proud.

Larry Kirwan, formerly of Black 47, sang a moving version of ‘The Patriot Game’ at Sandy’s memorial

Andrew Pollack:

I hope something can be written on his work with the American Committee on Africa, which was hugely important during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, especially in labor.

Anthony McIntyre, IRA ex-prisoner, who spent 18 years in Long Kesh, 4 years on the blanket and no-wash/no work protests which led to the hunger strikes of the 80’s:

During the H-block blanket protest and subsequent hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981, like many other protesting republican prisoners, I was aware of a concerted campaign on our behalf being waged in the USA. Activists not only from the Irish American community but further afield put their shoulder to the wheel in the push back against British intransigence and brutality.

News of their efforts would bypass the heavily filtered and policed official communication line between the H-Blocks and the outside world. People like Bobby Sands, Brendan Hughes and other prison protest leaders had developed a highly efficient alternative communication network, that rendered redundant prison management attempts to impose a regime that would have kept us incommunicado. Rudimentary compared to today’s technological world of telecommunications, it was nevertheless effective. So much of what we learned about the solidarity and support networks that in no small part strengthened our resolve, came via that improvised system. Necessity indeed was the mother of invention.

Our knowledge of the work being carried out by US based activists became more pronounced when some former protesting prisoners made their way to the States and began tying in with the campaigns already under way. Apart from some of the more well-known names we had little idea of who the individuals involved actually were, just that they were tirelessly giving of their time and energy to make things happen. It was only in later years that I got to know on a personal level some of those at the heart of that campaign.

Martin Galvin, former editor of The Irish People, compered the memorial service

One of those was Sandy Boyer, an indefatigable activist with a long history of involvement in progressive political causes and human rights campaigns. On his trips to Ireland Sandy would trudge up to my home in West Belfast and discuss the issues of the day. Quite often he would come face to face with the men whose cause he had tenaciously championed for so long: former blanketmen like Tommy Gorman. Sandy was always completely at ease in their company.

A hard-nosed activist Sandy Boyer did not do sentimentality and was never slow in calling something for how it was regardless of who it might have made uncomfortable. He stood in awe of no one. He focussed on the here and now and the political challenges than needed to be met and managed. He was not one to rest on the laurels of past activism or seek praise for the many times he had taken to the streets of New York or its airways to press our cause. More often than not I learned of Sandy’s role from others.

When he died earlier this year, it was clear that a vacuum in the activist world had been opened up and which would not be easily filled. I still unconsciously expect in my Friday email inbox a message from Sandy outlining what Radio Free Eireann would be featuring the following day. While others have admirably and resourcefully taken up the slack caused by his passing, it will take time to get used to not having him around, teasing out and prioritising the issues that he felt needed airing.

It is people like Sandy Boyer, determined not to be thwarted by the powerful, who help make the world much more bearable than it would be were he to have opted for quietude and an easy life. When I think of the rise of Donald Trump, it comes home to me just how badly many among Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth need the analytical mind and voice of Sandy Boyer to help counter and trump their nefarious efforts.

A sentinel for a sane society, it is fitting that we remember him with deep gratitude.

Andres Mares Muro:

Sandy and I worked at Tenants & Neighbors a few years back.

He was always extremely kind and considerate towards me and yet blunt and direct in his opinions about the workings of this cruel, vicious society, viewpoints which I largely shared.

We argued politics and history over lunch, whether Bolshevism in itself had been the problem with the bad turn socialism took or could Stalinism & bureaucratic collectivism have been avoided; what were the best politics for tenants groups in NYC to pursue given the limited prospects of real change in a city controlled by real estate/landlord interests; and so on.

I think that given this country’s racist history (which resonates with my own life experiences) it’s hard for a man of color to trust just any white guy, even one who’s a radical. There’s a gap between our different realities. But from our first connection I sensed that Sandy had his heart in the right place. I could tell that he was a decent human being and I did trust him.

I’m in California so regrettably I won’t be at Sandy’s memorial. My biggest regret is not having checked in with him more while he was alive.

Bernadette McAliskey:

A tribute to Sandy

It has not been unusual over the passing years for Sandy Boyer to call me with news of the death of someone known to both of us as a comrade, friend or an ally in one of the many campaigns, which we wrought together in the USA, not all of which centred on Ireland.

We would have a conversation about the deceased person, the campaign and the current state of several nations, and how best to convey our individual and joint condolences and respect; discuss who else in Ireland might be appropriate to acknowledge the person’s contribution to their well-being of which the beneficiaries may never have been aware.The consummate organiser, Sandy, would more often than not have a draft of key points not to be overlooked.

The passing of time and changing vocabulary would see the living and dead described as veterans, elders and life-time campaigners and he would respond to my question, ‘who will do this bit when it is our turn to go’ with his trade mark laughter, ‘We‘ll be fine. Nobody will notice we are gone until the next campaign.’

Life can be like that. There are people you imagine will always be there quietly at the edge of your life and on call when they are needed, because they always have been. There are also people you imagine will always be there because they are part of the fabric of your own being. You are not quite sure how that came to be but it is difficult to remember a time when they were not an integral part of your perspective on life, your political action, your circle of friends, and your family. You look up to them, look out for them, rely on them, value their perspective and are guided by it; you intrinsically trust them and their judgment.

Sandy Boyer holds such a place in my existence and my life’s journey. There are very few people in that place.

From 1969, when I first discovered the USA, Sandy has been the key organiser, educator and agitator behind every visit, every campaign, every intervention in which I have been active in the US. These have not always been Ireland -focused. Our joint enterprise included campaigning for political prisoners of the USA, including Angela Davis, Leonard Peltier, Mumia, the Puerto Rican prisoners and the Black Panthers; fundraising in the Irish American community for Black Baptist Churches burnt down by racists; supporting boycotts and divestment in South Africa and Israel.

Sandy was an internationalist and socialist whose core belief was internalised to the point that it informed his every thought and action without his having to explain the rationale to himself or anybody else except when they clearly didn’t get it and he needed them to do so. He wasn’t big on proselytising!

Sandy at a Roisin McAliskey rally at the New York Public Library

For the whole McAliskey family, his finest hour was our darkest and longest in 1996/97 when Roisin was arrested and held without charge for some nine months while we battled against her extradition to Germany. Sandy drew on every ounce of energy he possessed, every contact, every campaign and pulled them into a nationwide US campaign for Roisin’s release, without which we might never have succeeded in getting her out of prison.

Even as we celebrate his life and mourn his death, we are reminded by the latest ritual attack on Malachy McAllister how much we will miss his commitment and dogged determination to protect rights, defend those in the firing line and secure victories, however small, in the struggle against injustice.

Now that he is gone, who will carry on the work in the US of challenging the narrative and analysis that the Irish Question is all but settled except for whether Hillary or Sinn Fein should get the credit for the land of peace, bread, freedom and feminism they pretend to have created? Who will provide the contacts for the platform to expose the injustice of the Craigavon Two? Who will patiently and consistently point out and challenge the political and moral contradictions of supporting justice and freedom in Ireland but still think Black Lives don’t really Matter; that it is Ok to treat Muslims as a terrorist community in the USA; that Palestinians don’t have a right to a homeland? Who, if not those of us still here, gathered today in his name? The struggle continues.

It continues now without Sandy, and we will indeed miss him when we need him for something; for all the ideas and analysis shared over the phone; over a glass or two; over time; on the radio; on the picket line; on the campaign.

I will miss his gentle friendship, his kindness, his loyalty and quiet wisdom.

Goodbye, Sandy.

Mary Ann Wadden:

Mary Ann Wadden with Sandy and Malachy McCourt who also attended the memorial

In memorium Sandy Boyer

Sandy was a life-long socialist and human rights campaigner. He loved Ireland and envisioned a thirty two county united socialist republic. 
He worked tirelessly for whatever cause he believed in and never wavered, but always with good humor and laughter.
He was a devout atheist and a die-hard Mets fan. And he was my best friend. 
Once I asked Sandy what he thought folks would say about him when he was gone. He said “Most would say they knew me, some would say they liked me.”
Simply put, I loved him.

Mary Courtney:

For Sandy, RIP

Hello everyone. I am so sorry to be missing this memorial today because of work commitments.
I was never able to thank Sandy enough for his many years of constant support for myself and for my music. He played my songs weekly on Radio Free Eireann and I can’t count how many times he rang me to announce my upcoming gigs on the air, and I was in the studio on many occasions with himself and John and the crew. 
We miss his presence with us in our current fight trying to stop the deportation of Malachy Mc Allister. He would, as usual, be leading the charge against injustice and bigotry as he always did throughout his life. He is sorely missed.
Thank you Sandy Boyer for your kindness, and may you now be in the great studio beyond, continuing your work to make things better for us all on the other side.
Thank you.
 Slán go fóill.

Sally OBrien:

I am not in town – in fact out of the country or else I would be there for Sandy’s memorial – he was a special person and a wonderful fellow producer/friend. AND YES HE WAS STEADFAST IN HIS BELIEF AND PRACTICE!! I will miss his presence at WBAI. If contributions are called for please let me know how I can contribute – and when I return in June please let me know if anything else will be done for him (and us)

Condolences from my heart!! love & light.

Desmond Wilson, Springhill Community House, Belfast:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for organizing a memorial for the life and work of Sandy Boyer.

Sandy was a true friend who brought radical thinking to bear on the problems and potential of Ireland and of good people everywhere, especially those who are cruelly treated.

There are many people in Ireland who remember with great gratitude his lifelong dedication to the recognition of the dignity of all people.

I would be grateful if you would accept my thanks – I have been working in Belfast for many years and met Sandy often, so I have good reason to appreciate and honour him and his work and that of his colleagues.

With every best wish, Sincerely, Desmond Wilson

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