David Joseph Yockel
Remembering A Great Friend
March 17, 2020—David J. Yockel had a matter he needed to discuss with me. It was 1992, maybe early 1993. Yock had been living with me for a couple of years at my condo on 15th Street NW in D.C. This was before the Whole Foods, before the granite countertops, before the bike lanes and the yoga studios and the exposed everything. It was during the time of nightly smash-and-grabs, of desperate men parking with prostitutes behind our building.
Those conditions notwithstanding, Yock decided that his $350 rent was too much of a bargain. “Bor,” he said, using my nickname. “I think it’s time you raised my rent.”
Yock would have turned 55 today. He died in his sleep on Aug. 29 in Chicago while attending the membership development conference of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), his employer of three decades. He was a father to Courtney (a junior in high school), Mary Rose (a sophomore at Brown University) and Elizabeth (a recent graduate of Villanova University). He also left behind his wife of 23 years, Anne Yockel, a woman he never stopped adoring. In a Rochester funeral service on and a D.C. memorial service, loved ones commemorated a life of runaway generosity, cut unfathomably short. Hamilton College classmate and union attorney Jonathan Newman eloquently recalled Yock’s selflessness and his kindness. And in her homily, the Rev. Amy C. Yount noted that Yock would commonly walk about his home saying, “I love my girls!”
There was little that Yock didn’t love. I remember watching him one night drop a potato into a bowl and slide it into the microwave. Three minutes later, ding! He pulled it out and poured a can of corn over the top. Whether he accented the assembled items with salt or pepper, I don’t remember.
He dug in. I gave him a few minutes to evaluate his concoction, then asked, “How’s that tasting, Yock?”
Anyone who knew Yock would recognize his response: “You know, Bor, I gotta be honest,” he said, “it’s actually really, really good.”
I signaled my skepticism, and he broke out in laughter, slapping the countertop with his open palm. Had the countertop been unavailable, he would have slapped his knee. He was a full-contact laugher, that Yock. When one of his good friends cracked wise, he would often start clapping and laughing at the same time. Even if you hadn’t found the joke too amusing, you would enjoy the moment because Yock was enjoying the moment. In just that way, Yock spent a lifetime putting whole groups of people – Thanksgiving guests, buddies from Hamilton College, colleagues, his great family – on his shoulders and seeing them to a wonderful time.
Though we both attended Hamilton College at the same time, I didn’t know Yock until we met in D.C. in 1990. Yock had participated in Hamilton’s semester in Washington and returned after graduation, residing in Alexandria with his sister Lisa and eventually moving in with me in Logan Circle. Lacking high-placed contacts in Washington, Yock found jobs that required none. For a time he drove a car-parts delivery truck, ferrying brake pads and radiators from a central clearinghouse to repair shops all across the Washington region, a job that vested Yock with a mastery of Northern Virginia’s tangled byways.
One day I ran into Yock in the Foggy Bottom area of D.C. He was standing on a corner not far from the long-since defunct outlet of Tower Records. Neither going anywhere nor coming from anywhere, Yock was staring into the middle distance all by himself. So I asked him what he was doing. “Counting the cars,” he responded, showing off the mechanical clicker-counter in his hand. Turns out, he’d gotten a gig with some contractor doing a traffic study. Which is to say, he was thrilled when he secured his job in the research department of the IBEW.
When he wasn’t at work, Yock was a gamer. We played embarrassing amounts of basketball, tennis, badminton, ping pong, or whatever. It was all natural for Yock, in light of his upbringing as a three-sport star at Eastridge Senior High School in Irondequoit, N.Y. In football, he started at guard and linebacker, rarely leaving the field. He once described to me how he could barely move after one of his games. In basketball, Yock was once assigned to smother Greg Monroe, a 6-3 sensation who played for Pittsford Mendon and would go on to star at Syracuse University under Jim Boeheim and, later, in the CBA. And he loved baseball. Before the season started every year, he told me, he would stand in his garage on Vinton Road and “swing that bat over and over and over. Over and over and over.”
Wherever Yock roamed, his ancient Chevy Cavalier wasn’t far behind. Too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, this vehicle handled like an earth mover and accelerated only after extensive coaxing. Whereas most of the car was a dull hue of turdish brown, the hood had a tinge of white, making it easy to spot in a crowded lot. Legend has it that Yock was washing the car and failed to properly remove the wax from the hood, leaving the sun to bake it into the finish. Still it managed to get Yock from Rochester to D.C. to New York to wherever his friends were getting together whatever weekend. Cars aren’t known for taking on the traits of their owners, but we all saw the Cavalier –high on reliability; low on flash; no fussiness whatsoever – as a sheet-metal incarnation of Yock.
One time, Yock piled a bunch of us into the Cavalier to watch the Super Bowl at the Fish Market in Alexandria, Va. It was a popular spot right on King Street, near the waterfront. Parking was always tight, so I urged Yock to park far away; we could just walk from there. Yock, though, loved to test his luck when it came to parking. As we turned the corner onto King Street, a car parked directly in front of the joint was pulling onto the street. Yock steered into the vacuum: “Unbelievable!” he declared. All night long he savored his parking coup. “Look at that,” he urged us.
Speaking of Super Bowls, Yock had a curious habit of rooting for one team in the first half, only to switch allegiances during halftime. This he did quietly, though we invariably picked up on the shift during pivotal points in the second half, when Yock would let out a cheer that contradicted his first-half exhortations. “Yock, I thought you were rooting for the Bills?” Newbie would say. Put on the spot, Yock would laugh, slap something and attempt some explanation for his split loyalties.
We knew what the real deal was, however: Yock was just too nice a guy to root against an entire football team for the whole game.
“Nice,” though, doesn’t properly commend Yock. One time, I was working on a story about gender portrayals in TV news. I got a sociologist on the phone who started riffing about how women delight in the exploits of their college classmates, whereas men are jealous types who tend to sneer at and diminish them. Immediately my thoughts darted to Yock: Surely the researchers would have had to rip up their findings and start over if they’d tracked him over past three decades or so. That’s because there’s no one who took as much pleasure and drew as much electricity from the successes of his friends and family as Yock. All those people know it, too. Just ask Joe “Gilby” Gilbert, the first Hamilton College football player selected as a first-team All-American.
Upon graduation, Gilby got into coaching and began a steady and peripatetic climb up the profession’s rungs. He coached at Maine, at Northeastern, at Illinois, at a college in Ohio – that’s all coming from memory, because Yock told me in excited tones about each step along the way. Every so often, I’d field an invite from Yock to road-trip to one of Gilby’s games.
On Nov. 14, 1992, Yock, Newbie and I crammed into the Cavalier en route to Towson State for a game against Gilby’s Northeastern University squad. In the game’s waning moments, Northeastern Quarterback Ralph Barone scored on a quarterback draw from the 32 yard line, thanks to outstanding work from Gilby’s offensive line. It was 32-27, Northeastern. Four seconds remained on the clock. On the following kickoff, the Towson players lateraled their way down the field and petered out on the 20 yard line. Game over, right? No – Northeastern was flagged for a premature celebration, and the game couldn’t end on a penalty, giving Towson a shot at the end zone from 10 yards out. They connected, edging Gilby’s crew 33-32. Yock was crushed.
Gilby persisted, however: When he was hired onto the staff of the Indianapolis Colts, Yock raved over the phone in bolded italics. “Bor, the Indianapolis Colts! Can you believe it?” Gilby has since done a short stint at the University of Arizona and this year coaches the offensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Though Yock’s memorial service fell on the day before Tampa Bay’s home opener against the San Francisco 49ers, there was Gilby, front and center at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, paying respects to his most enthusiastic fan.
The Gilby story is illustrative, not exhaustive. Yock monitored the careers of countless friends and classmates dating back to the Eastridge days, the Hamilton days, the IBEW days and, well, the bus-stop days. As Yount mentioned at the memorial service, Yock so impressed a fellow he’d met at the local bus stop that the guy invited his whole family to the Rehoboth seashore before Anne and the kids even met him. After learning of Yock’s death, I scrolled through my text-message correspondence to find his last comment: “I love the video Bor!”
My family was at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts when we learned from Anne that Yock had died. We sobbed together in one of the site’s never-ending parking lots and then drove the 40 minutes home. What impressed me was that both of my kids – 13-year-old Lucy and 15-year-old Sam – were deeply stricken by the news.
Especially Sam. He cried the whole way home.
Dialing up my own childhood, I couldn’t remember being so distraught at the passing of my parents’ friends. Perhaps it was a generational thing, I supposed. As a kid, I was walled off from my folks’ friends by formalities, honorifics and the ambient stiffness of the times. Maybe all that has melted away in the past 25 years or so.
Then I came to my senses. There was no eggheaded explanation for my son’s grief. It was Yock, period. Yock had done projects at his house with Sam; we all worked on Yock’s ice machine; they worked on his computer; Yock came to my kids’ piano recitals; and maybe even more important than all that, Yock listened when they spoke. Which is to say, Yock treated them the way he treated everyone else.
We all miss him enormously.
The officers regret to report the death of International Representative David J. Yockel on Aug. 24. He was 54.
Brother Yockel joined the IBEW as a research analyst in 1989 after working in the office of then-Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York. In 2010, he was appointed an international representative in the Research Department and became a member of his hometown local, Rochester, N.Y., Local 86.
"Dave became indispensable to the IBEW," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "You'd never know it by the way he acted, but he was a crucial part in some of the major initiatives of the IBEW in the last 10 years. This is a tragic loss for the Brotherhood."
Yockel was a government major at Hamilton College, said Jon Newman, an attorney in the IBEW's general counsel office, Sherman Dunn. Newman and Yockel played on the Hamilton College football team together and were friends from the moment Newman arrived on campus.
"Dave is from upstate New York. He grew up with working people, he was a working man and it seemed natural to him to work in the labor movement," Newman said.
Brother Yockel was driven by his lifelong and deep Catholic faith, Newman said, as well as by the memory of his mother, who died when Yockel was a young man. While in college, he went to Sweden to study the country's labor relations model. When he graduated in 1987, he went to work for his hometown member of Congress, longtime Rep. Louise Slaughter, who recommended Brother Yockel look into unions.
Research Department Director Jim Voye said Yockel's most consequential achievement for the future of the IBEW was finding a solution to one of the union's most vexing problems.
In contract negotiations, NECA and local unions could rarely agree on how much of the work in their jurisdiction they were actually doing. In the mid-2000s, Yockel was given the job of finding a single way of measuring market share in the U.S. that the IBEW and NECA would agree to.
Voye said Yockel had a mix of temperament, expertise and experience that made him almost uniquely credible.
"Not many people have the ability to understand what both sides are looking for, then to know where to look in the mountain of data to find it. The people who are able to do that rarely understand how to come back out of the numbers with a story to tell. Even fewer of them know the construction business," Voye said. "And then he does all this nerdy stuff, but you want to have a beer with him."
For Assistant to the President for Membership Development Ricky Oakland, it is hard to overstate the importance of coming to agreement on a consistent way of measuring success. Nearly every slide he presented at the Membership Development Conference this year in some way referenced market share and the data collected and explained by Brother Yockel's work.
"There are people who may not like what it says, but no one can argue that it isn't accurate. Now, if a local doesn't like what the numbers reveal, get out there and do something, but no more arguing," Oakland said. "These numbers drive everything: it drives if a local is performing well or not, what kind of contract we can secure, and what we ultimately need to do to drive the IBEW forward."
And it wasn't just that he could dig up numbers, Oakland said.
"He was an expert at showing us where we were and where we need to go. He knew this union as well as anyone in it, and he always made it interesting. It was beautiful. He just blew me away," he said.
Yockel was at the heart of several other crucial initiatives from the international officers, including the Family Medical Care Plan and the prescription drug plan.
"He was decent and honest; a throwback; the kind of guy you wanted to be in charge of the numbers because you knew he would tell you the truth," Voye said. "He never wanted the spotlight and you never worried he had some ulterior motive."
In recognition of his importance to the IBEW, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Brother Yockel an international representative in 2010, an honor rarely given to a staff member who didn't come up through the union. He joined Local 86 in his hometown, and it was, Newman said, one of the proudest days of his life.
"It was a huge deal in his life. He was so proud to be a member of his hometown local," he said. "The bottom line, no exaggeration, is that he loved working for the IBEW and he loved the IBEW; what it stood for; the people; what his work meant to the members. He loved how strong it is, how large it is, and that it keeps on growing."
Brother Yockel is survived by his wife, Anne, and daughters Elizabeth, Mary Rose and Courtney, the three of whom he talked about with pride almost daily to co-workers. He is also survived by his father, two sisters, in-laws and many nieces and nephews.
On behalf of the IBEW's members and staff, the officers offer our deepest sympathies to Brother Yockel's family, colleagues and many friends.