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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) yesterday announced that Willard Knight will retire June 30 as national vice president following a 44-year railroad career. Knight, who's served as a VP on the BLET's advisory board since April 2009, has battled esophageal cancer and related complications for the past several months, union officials said in a press release.Alternate National Vice President No. 1 Richard Gibbons will be promoted to national vice president, effective July 1, to fill Knight's vacancy, they said.Knight began his railroad career in 1969 as a fireman for the Norfolk & Western Railroad in Portsmouth, Ohio. He became a locomotive engineer in 1972 and first joined BLET Division 511 in January 1974. Knight later was elected local chairman of Division 511, general chairman of the BLET's Norfolk Southern-Eastern Region General Committee of Adjustment, third-alternate vice president and vice president."I personally thank Brother Willard for his valuable leadership and experience. The contracts he helped negotiate over the years have had a positive and lasting impact on a generation of locomotive engineers," said BLET National President Dennis Pierce.Gibbons, who joined the BLET in November 1973, was elected alternate national VP No. 1 in December 2010. He previously was general chairman of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe General Committee of Adjustment and a local chairman of Division 502.Gibbons began his railroad career with the Illinois Central Gulf in 1972 and became a locomotive engineer in 1973.