Charles Scontras Maine AFL-CIO photo

Charles Scontras, a distinguished educator, author and Maine labor historian, died Sunday. He was 91.

Scontras was a professor at the University of Maine for 36 years and held positions in the modern society, history and political science departments. He retired in 1997 and continued to serve as a research associate at the Bureau of Labor Education at UMaine.

His daughter, Dianna Scontras of Stow, Ohio, shared the news of her father’s passing on Facebook.

“It is with great sadness and shock that our father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly yesterday,” she wrote. “He was a man of immense knowledge and wisdom, had a tremendously loving heart, and (was) a never-ending inspiration to all.”

The Maine AFL-CIO issued a statement Monday afternoon, noting Mr. Scontras’ dedication to sharing the history of Maine workers’ struggles.

“Professor Scontras told the stories of common Maine people banding together for dignity in the workplace and society, building organizations and forever struggling for basic rights in the workplace,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, in a written statement. “At a fundamental level, Charlie told the ongoing story of everyday working class Mainers fighting to become citizens in the workplace, not property. More than any other human being to walk this earth, he chronicled, catalogued, and kept alive the history of Maine workers, our unions and collective struggles. He taught us our working class and labor history too often neglected in schools or textbooks. We are all eternally grateful and better for Charlie’s work. Our thoughts go out to Charlie’s family, friends and the countless people he has touched through his work.”

Scontras was the son of Greek immigrants and spent his early years in Old Orchard Beach, according to his biography. His mother was a textile worker in Biddeford and his father was a shoe repairman. Scontras followed in his father’s footsteps and became a shoe repairman, but later followed his passion for education and became a professor at University of Maine in 1961.

Andy O’Brien, communication director for the Maine AFL-CIO, posted a tribute to Scontras on the Maine Working Class History Facebook page.

He said Scontras “sought to understand and document the history of how Maine workers organized and fought back against the tyranny of big business – from the first strike of fishermen on Richmond Island in 1636 … to the union drives of workers at the Portland Museum of Art and nurses at Maine Medical Center today.”

“A teacher to the very end, Charlie spent his life researching the history of collective struggles of Maine workers and he never stopped reminding us about those who fought and sacrificed before us for better wages, working conditions, workplace safety, the eight-hour day and dignity in the workplace,” O’Brien wrote.

Scontras authored more than a dozen books and numerous pamphlets about Maine labor history including “Organized Labor in Maine: Twentieth Century Origins,” “Organizing Labor and Labor Politics in Maine, 1880-1890” and “Two Decades of Organized Labor and Labor Politics in Maine, 1880-1900.” He was nearly finished with his latest book on ideology when he died.

In 1997, the Maine Department of Labor consulted with Scontras as it commissioned a mural highlighting Maine’s labor history. Scontras worked closely with Judy Taylor, the artist who produced the 11-panel mural depicting historical scenes of the labor movement in Maine and the country.

The mural, currently on display at the Maine State Museum, features images of Rosie the Riveter, a shoe worker strike in Lewiston, and of Scontras himself, teaching an apprentice how to hand-sew shoes.

The mural gained national attention when former Gov. Paul LePage ordered it removed from the lobby of the Department of Labor in 2011, his first year in office. In a 2011 interview with ABC news, Scontras called the governor’s action an attempt “to erase part of our cultural history.”

“Everything in those murals is historically accurate,” Scontras said in the interview. “There’s no dispute about that.”

Gov. Janet Mills remembered Scontras on Monday as a man with a big heart, a beloved educator and true gentleman.

“He was passionate about the rights of working men and women, and he wove that passion into everything he wrote and said, from his frequent Facebook posts to large volumes on the history of the labor movement in Maine,” Gov. Mills wrote in an email. “I was honored to consider him a friend and will miss our conversations and exchanges.”

Mr. Scontras was married to Joanne Scontras for nearly 60 years. The couple lived in Cape Elizabeth and raised two children, Dan Scontras of Boston, and Dianna Scontras of Ohio.

Scontras was active on Facebook, posting material on Maine history. The day before he died, Scontras posted a piece for Women’s History Month about women in the workplace and their struggles over the years for equal pay.

Hobbs Funeral Home in South Portland is handling his services. A full obituary and service information will likely appear in Sunday’s newspaper.

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