Probe: Sept. 3, 2001

September 02, 2001

QUESTION: Was Jerry Breshears your brother? If so, why don't you ever write about labor for your holiday column? — Rank and File, El Centro

Maybe we have veered away from labor and labor issues in the Valley because we can't be objective, or maybe the subjects rubs a wound that never heals.

Our nieces and our children will tell you it was not easy growing up in Imperial County if you were closely related to Jerry Breshears, who was working with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee before there was a United Farm Workers.

They might say the same thing about being related to Virginia Horn, the newspaper reporter and for the past 24 years and the PROBE writer.


Jerry died Sept. 22, 1982, in a private plane crash near Fresno. It was the day of the birth of his first grandchild, Ashley Fargo. He was 45 years old.

Jerry had just bought the plane and flown it to the Fresno area so he could visit all the job sites in that area and fly home when the baby was born. It was the height of the cantaloupe harvest in the Fresno area.

As executive secretary of the Amalgamated Packinghouse Workers—Locals 78 A (Salinas) and B (Imperial County), he oversaw labor contracts from Colorado to the Mexican border and from New Mexico to Salinas.

Jerry was always where the action was. He was the life of every party. He lived to make our life miserable. His favorite trick was to get us on a dune buggy so he could scare us to death.

He organized the one-legged foot races in our living room. He was the one who kicked the hole in the wall pushing off with one foot to get an advantage over his pre-pubescent competition.

He was the one who walked in on Mike's 4th birthday party with a gun that fired rubber balls. We finally had the dozen kids sitting quietly in a circle waiting for ice cream and cake.

When the last kid had his plate, Jerry started firing, sending balls, kids, cake and ice cream in every direction. It made the party, but he was not the one who mopped up the cake and ice cream.

We don't believe in extra-sensory perception. If it existed, the first thing you would have to do is lose it. If people could zone in on your mind at any time, think how irritating it would be. You wouldn't be able to hear yourself think.

On the day that Jerry died, we had not a premonition but something, a feeling. It was strong enough that we left our desk to sit at the "news desk."

"I am so depressed!" we said to Jim Duke, our layout editor. It was 4 o'clock.

"Get out of here, Virginia. Your life always sounds like Erma Bombeck!" Jim said.

At 8 p.m., Jerry's wife, Jean, called from the El Centro hospital to announce Debbie had a girl. Before she hung up, she said, "I'm worried about Jerry flying around up there in that plane.

"He knew Debbie was in labor. He can't wait for the baby. Something's wrong or he would have called."

By 10 p.m., we knew. His plane had crashed hours earlier as he turned to return to the Firebaugh airport. Witnesses said the plane was on fire as it skimmed over telephone poles before crashing at 4 o'clock, give or take a few minutes.

When it finally sunk in that Jerry was gone, I thought, "Well, there goes Christmas." And Thanksgiving and Easter.

During the weeklong wake that followed, we mourned and laughed until we cried as we took turns telling "what Jerry did to me!"

Jerry was a labor leader, but more than that he was our brother. Have a safe Labor Day.

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