J. Harold Stafford was born in Saint John on January 23, 1917. He was the son of Frederick and Catherine (Connell) Stafford. In 1953, he married Lillian Mackin. They did not have any children.
Stafford was educated in the Saint John public school system. In 1939, he joined Local 1 of the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers International Union and commenced his apprenticeship in the bricklaying trade. In 1989, the union presented him with a Gold Card for fifty years of continuous membership.
During the Second World War, Stafford served overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers. In 1944, he was wounded in action and returned to Canada for an instructional tour of duty at the Engineering School in Chilliwack, B.C.
Following the war, he returned to Saint John and went back to work in the bricklaying trade, where he became a certified journeyman in bricklaying, stone masonry and plastering. He became involved in the trade union movement, holding various offices in Local 1 and the Saint John Trades and Labour Council. He also became president of the Saint John Building and Construction Trades Council. His abilities as a labour leader were soon recognized. In 1952, he was hired by the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) as a General Representative for the Atlantic Region.
In 1956, the TLC merged with the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) to create the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Stafford was assigned the responsibility for trade union education in the Atlantic Region and in 1964 he was appointed Regional Director of Education for the Congress. A tireless worker, he was responsible for organizing weekend labour workshops in the region, which meant he was on the road working almost every weekend. He designed the courses for most of these workshops himself. This meant most weekdays he was in the office preparing the subject matter and he had very few resources to work with. His equipment consisted of a flip chart, chalk and a blackboard. Yet, the courses he conducted were always considered first-class and there were literally thousands of trade unionists who got their basic training through these weekend workshops.
Stafford was one who believed trade unionists should be involved in more than the bread and butter issues of collective bargaining and he led by example. He was a member of the Regional Library Board for almost thirty years and for a substantial period of time served as its president. He served on the Board of Commissioners of the Saint John General and Regional Hospitals from 1962 to 1987 and for a considerable period of time was the Board Chairman. He was a founding Director of United Way of Saint John and was on the Board of Centracare Saint John Inc. and the Saint John School of Nursing.
While carrying-out his normal responsibilities, he still found time to serve for forty-two years as an employee representative on the Unemployment Insurance Commission Board of Referees. He also served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, Dalhousie University and St. Thomas University and the New Brunswick Extra-Mural Hospital. He was a member of the Saint John Human Development Council, the Saint John Advisory Committee on Economic Planning and the Saint John Port and Development Commission. He was also a lay member of the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. He was a director of the New Brunswick Research Productivity Council, the Atlantic Region Management Training Centre, Market Square Corporation, Rocmaura Inc., and the Saint John Diocese Priests’ Pension Committee.
Always interested in adult education, Stafford was involved in establishing Labour-University Education Committees that took advantage of university extension services. He helped to establish the Atlantic Region Labour Education Centre at St. Francis Xavier University. He served as a member of the Provincial Advisory Committee on Vocational Education and was a founding member of the Board of Governors for the New Brunswick Community College.
Stafford’s contribution to the labour movement and his community did not go unrecognized. In 1989, the City of Saint John conferred the Freedom of the City on him, the highest honour the Saint John City Council can award. He was the recipient of the New Brunswick Hospital Association 1990 Chaiker Abbis Award, recognizing his dedication and commitment of twenty-five years of voluntary service to improve health care in the province. When he retired, in 1982, the labour movement held a testimonial dinner in recognition of his long and faithful service to the working people in the Atlantic Region. The New Brunswick Federation of Labour established a scholarship in his name. The J. Harold Stafford Humanitarian Award is awarded annually to assist worthwhile union and community projects.
Stafford was known as a highly disciplined individual. It was often said that you could set your watch by the time he arrived at work or went to lunch. He was always on time and well prepared for any meetings. His dress was always immaculate, his shoes were always shined and he never had a hair out of place. But he was not pretentious. He never owned a house, but lived in a modest apartment. He never drove fancy cars, owned an RV or travelled much. You would not find Harold Stafford on a golf course. He once told a friend that his hobby was sitting on Boards and Commissions. His wife Lillian, “Honey” as he called her, described him as a “homebody, who loved to read and enjoy good music of all kinds.”
A Roman Catholic by faith, Stafford was an exceptionally religious man. He attended Mass on a daily basis, even when he was on the road, unless circumstances made it impossible. His retirement years were mostly spent in service to his church. He taught religious education classes to high school students at Stella Maris Church and was a Lector and Cantor. He was a member of the first Parish Council at Stella Maris and was a representative to the Regional Council. He became chairman of the Regional Council and later attended a national conference in Ottawa on the Laity. He was an Honorary Life member of Saint John Council 937 Knights of Columbus and had participated in a number of their operettas.
When he passed away, on April 23, 2005, Stafford was remembered as a hard worker at whatever task he took on. But most of all, he was remembered as a real gentleman by those whose lives he had touched. John Murphy, executive secretary of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour said he was “always impressed with Stafford’s ability to link the social responsibility of trade unionists to just about any subject. He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk.” Union activist George Vair, who was mentored by Stafford, said that “Stafford always had the time to pass on advice to the younger trade union activists, and when Harold was appointed to a Board or Commission he was determined not to be the token labour representative. He was there to make a contribution.”
J. Harold Stafford was laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, in East Saint John. He was survived by his wife of 52 years and several nephews and nieces.