First recipient of Abe Breehey Award offers unusual tribute

BNAP National Coordinator Marty Spencer presents Higgins with the first Abe Breehey Legislator of the Year Award.

Rep. Higgins strums, sings one of Abe’s favorite numbers

REP. BRIAN HIGGINS (D-NY 27) did something quite unusual before he accepted the Abe Breehey Legislator of the Year Award at the LEAP conference April 25. He strapped on a guitar and delivered a soulful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

The conference room hushed as Higgins strummed and sang the number. It was one of Abe’s favorites, and the two friends had practiced it often together.

Breehey died suddenly in April 2011 from a brain tumor at the age of 34. Widely respected as the Boilermakers Legislative Director, he was a top advocate for the Brotherhood and the AFL-CIO on Capitol Hill, especially on energy issues. His testimony before the Senate and his lobbying efforts with congressional members helped shape legislation aimed at a sensible and achievable energy policy to benefit his beloved Boilermakers.

Breehey was a proud member of Local 19 (Philadelphia).

At the 2011 Consolidated Convention, delegates approved a resolution renaming the Legislator of the Year Award in Abe’s honor. Later, as the Brotherhood’s leadership considered worthy candidates for the legislative award, Brian Higgins became the clear favorite, not only for his ties to Abe, but also for his strong labor record.

Higgins had met and befriended Abe during their time at the New York state capital of Albany, years ago.

Marty Spencer, BNAP National Coordinator, presented the award to Higgins. Spencer also has ties to Higgins. The men grew up in the same Buffalo, N.Y., neighborhood.

Higgins’ musical tribute left many damp eyes in the conference room as delegates recalled their own relationships with Abe, whose charm, optimism, and boundless energy were an inspiration to those who knew him.