John Matthews, longtime head of Madison teachers union, to retire in January

“I would guess, frankly, that no other school district union in the country has had a leader who has served as long as John,” Bellman said. “Because a union is democratic, his longevity is vivid evidence of the way he’s perceived by the people he serves. His ability to interact with members, to serve them, to be appreciated by them — I just don’t think there’s anyone else in the country like that.”

Former Madison schools superintendent Art Rainwater, who led the district for 10 years with Matthews as head of the union, said that while the two had disagreements, “we also did a lot of good things together to strengthen the district.”

Asked if Matthews ever angered him, Rainwater said, “Of course, and I’m sure I made him mad. But the goal was not to let that anger linger or let that anger affect the way we worked.”

Regardless of the tenor of their interactions, “you never doubted when you worked with him that his primary interest was in protecting his employees,” Rainwater said. “That was his job, that was his role, and he was really good at it.”

To many MTI members, Matthews has been a beloved presence, known as much for his personal kindness as his fiery leadership. He routinely receives standing ovations from members when he’s introduced at union gatherings.

Notes and links on John Matthews, Art Rainwater and Act 10.