Tech-savvy Guild leader Russ Cain was the union’s main database expert and one-man help desk for years. When he died recently, staff members wondered how they could possibly manage without him.
Eva Vargas, who provides office support in San Francisco for the Guild local’s interpreter members, urged everybody not to be overly concerned. “Don’t worry,” she said one day. “He’s in the cloud.”
Cain, who passed away June 12 at age 70, laid the digital foundation for The Newspaper Guild and many of its member locals. In the early 1990s, he implemented computer database systems across the country as a labor of love, replacing pencil and pen systems.
Members of his home local, the Pacific Media Workers Guild, held a simple memorial for Cain in the union’s San Francisco headquarters last Saturday, Sept. 21, in a special session before a general membership meeting. A special guest, Wayne Cahill, former administrative officer of Guild locals in Philadelphia and Hawaii, travelled from Seattle on his own dime to head the memorial.
A photo of Cain had just been hung in the Guild conference room – not in the front, but off to one side. Russ never would have wanted to be the center of attention, Guild leaders noted. He wanted to be of service.
“He helped where he could, and that was a lot of places,” Cahill said.
After sharing some memories of Cain, meeting participants passed a motion to suspend the rules to allow Cahill to make a special motion, establishing a scholarship fund in Cain’s name. The motion passed unanimously. Mike Ferreira, president of the Guild local’s California Federation of Interpreters unit, and Carl Hall, executive officer, added to the eulogies. A collection basket circulated through the room. Along with previous donations from Guild retirees, the Cain Fund began with nearly $2,500.
The money will be used to support educational programs including scholarships, grants to aid students, training and mentorships.
The special session ended with a musical eulogy put together by Cain’s sons, Kevin and Paul. Russ was an opera lover and scholar of Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” With Kevin writing and Paul narrating an edited version, the sons created an audio clip that included their father’s favorite piece, the climatic conclusion of Götterdämmerung.
Russ saw the Ring as a metaphor for workers’ struggle. “Those who know the work may also see Alberich as the model of an ugly capitalist with the Nibelungs under his thumb, the hapless giants as landless peasants and the hero Siegfried as a model for the socialist ‘new man’. Cain saw the Ring as a cautionary parable of and for labor, writ large. It’s not an encouraging story, but he found a lot of truth in it. For Cain the Ring was more than a rallying cry for workers.”
“Remember Russ as you listen to the conclusion of Götterdämmerung,” the brothers’ eulogy noted,” an experience he would have loved to share with you today. He would have been deeply honored to know that his name will live on in the Russ Cain Fund, and in the Guild’s continuing efforts to bring young minds into the work of journalism.”
Paul’s narration played over the Wagnerian background as the musical tribute began: “It’s not going too far to say that, beyond family, Russ held two enduring passions in his life: the Guild and the opera.”
Then the music took over. Wagner’s orchestral summation, the end of a 16-hour epic about warring Gods and the annihilation of all living things in a conflagration of fire and water, filled the room, only to soften out into a melodious strain of rebirth.
The first students to benefit from the Cain Fund already have been selected. They are Jade Castro, daughter of San Francisco Chronicle member Lisa Castro; Daniel J. O’Toole, son of CFI member Nancy O’Toole; and McKenna Toston, a student in the Local’s annual Bay News Rising training and mentorship program. Each of these young people is studying in California and their interests range from occupational therapy to business administration to human rights crisis reporting.
Donate to the Russ Cain Memorial Student Aid Fund by contacting Kat Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.