Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Remembering Chris Carson

Above: Tom Nogler, left, and Audrey Henley remember the life of Olympia activist Chris Carson at the Capitol Theater Monday night in downtown Olympia. Carson passed away of cancer on January 6. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

The life of Chris Carson was remembered by friends and family at the Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia Monday night.

Carson passed away of cancer on January 6 at St. Peter Hospital.

The celebration was quickly organized by friends in a way that was very Olympia: with a potluck, live music by Dusty Rhodes and friends, and storytelling.

Carson was involved with social, economic, and environmental justice issues in Olympia for decades. 

Due to vision issues, Carson did not drive and relied on friends to drive her home.

When someone asked for a show of hands of how many in the audience had ever given Carson a ride home, about 100 hands went up.

Carson was an eyewitness to the shooting of unarmed students by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in 1970. 

There is no doubt the experience dramatically shaped Carson’s life and work with peace and justice issues.

Calling Facebook a “toxic swamp,” in a recent chat with Little Hollywood, Carson eschewed social media platforms, and made relationships the old-fashioned way by sharing her thoughts and truly listening to others.

Many friends shared their stories about Carson.

Audrey Henley, executive director of the Olympia Film Society, said the Capitol Theater was Carson’s second home. She volunteered there for at least 18 years and helped to sustain the Olympia Film Society in a variety of capacities.

“She was a huge course of change in the community,” said Henley.

In written remarks, former mayor of Olympia Mark Foutch said he sometimes gave Carson rides home from the theater.

Appreciating her faith and confidence in Olympia, Foutch said Carson left him with two wise thoughts that expressed her opinion of the Olympia community, and also why she loved it: 

“Olympia should have signs at the city limits saying, ‘Welcome to Olympia - Leave your baggage HERE,’ (Of course, she meant to free yourself of the past; this is your place for a new start) and “Olympia is a place where you not only can pursue your dream, it will help you get there.”

A Go Fund Me fund in Carsons name has been established at for cremation services and a tree planting memorial burial, and hospital and home related fees. 

Any additional funds will be donated in her name to the nonprofits she loved.

Above: Chris Carson, beloved sister and friend.

Asked to give a eulogy for Carson on Monday evening, I offered these words:

Going Home: Chris Carson

Last night, I was asked to say a few words about Chris Carson.

Luckily, I’ve been writing about her ever since Rick (Fellows) texted me the day she passed away. 

I’ve lived in Olympia for 35 years and I don’t remember a time without her, but it was only recently that I found out that we’re originally from the same part of Ohio.

My last conversation with Chris was on November 1. It lasted three hours, sitting in my car after I had taken her home after a city meeting.

This was not the first time we had done this. I always enjoyed hearing Chris speak. It was a cold, windy night, but I was warmed by her sweet voice.

As we were leaving city hall that evening, she had tripped on a curb - badly. Her vision was compromised by a rare eye disease, chronic cyclitis, and she had been part of a research case about it for several years in California.

She said that early on, doctors had given her a prognosis that was bad in the long term. She said she was heading toward blindness but felt positive about the future because she had good color perception and was smart and healthy.

Because of her vision issues, she had given up driving.

An avid bus rider, the Intercity Transit bus used to run past her house until 10:30 p.m. until the budget got slashed due to I-695. Fourteen bus routes were eliminated and never restored.

Buses in her neighborhood stopped running at 6:00 p.m. and weekend service was cut, so, basically, she felt like she was living under a total curfew.

All this could have limited her ability or desire to participate in community activities and evening meetings, but she relied on us, her friends, to drive her home.

She got involved with the Alliance for Public Transportation and attended Intercity Transit community meetings and asked them to bring back routes. She said she knew people who had to move and lost their jobs because they couldn’t get to work.

She said she had a friend who hosted EF students and, in order to host them, the home must be on a bus route. The friend lost the opportunity to host the students.

She was an advocate for us all.

Of course, Chris was perhaps best known as the voice of the Pet Parade for many years for Thurston Community Television (TCTV).

She was at Mt. Rainier one year when someone spotted her and yelled out to her, “Hey, Pet Parade lady!” She loved that.

Recently, she was active with the Strengthening Sanctuary movement and there was a meeting in September at the Temple of 14 or 15 participating congregations. She encouraged the Fellowship of Reconciliation to join the coalition. 

A couple hundred people were there, and someone came up to her and recognized her as the Pet Parade lady. They wanted a picture of her with them and of course, she obliged.

She managed Music in the Park for about six years in the late 1980s. She loved one of the phrases mentioned in the city’s downtown revitalization “Main Street” study. It said that “Sylvester Park is Olympia’s living room - a place where everyone is welcome and can sit down and relax.”

About that, Chris told me:

“That’s what I always wanted Music in the Park to be - to attract people of all types, ages and backgrounds and cultural groups and that they would come, enjoy some food, music, and be there comfortably together, and perhaps the next time they saw each other again, they wouldn’t have that fear of ‘the other’ so much, because they had had that positive experience. That’s the way I always looked at it.”

We talked about the seeds of our social and community service organizations, nonprofits, and unsung heroes. She was involved with Bulldog News and the Liberation Café and the nonprofits that shared the space upstairs like Books to Prisoners.

We talked about Carol Burns creating TCTV, Long-haired David creating EGYHOP, Gita Moulton starting SPEECH, Glen Anderson creating the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation and her involvement with Media Island.

She remembered how Herb Legg would see leaves as works of art, attach them onto cards and give them out to people. She talked about Scott Yoos and what a great Scrabble player he is.

We talked a lot about the delicacy of life and how one person can make such a difference.

Chris loved the poem by Rachel Corrie called “The Blind Eyed Salmon.” When Rachel used to live in the Cleopatra Apartments, Chris said she used to run into her along State Avenue. Rachel knew Moxlie and Indian Creek and knew the salmon were still trying to get home, she said.

Chris was involved with the Abolish Nuclear Weapons movement.

She enjoyed Jazz Jams at Traditions on the first Sunday of the month.

She was looking forward to the Women’s March on January 19.

She was keenly interested and knowledgeable about historic preservation.

She was an advocate for libraries and expressed concern about current Timberland Library funding issues. She was thinking about how to fairly fund libraries and intended to ask Representative Beth Doglio to find secure funding.

Chris used the library a lot and used their printer. I offered her a printer, but she declined, saying she enjoyed running into people there.

She used to work for the Washington State Library. She worked in Acquisitions, and eventually oversaw the mending of books.

For several years, she took care of the territorial collection and the State Constitution. At one time, the Library loaned her to the Timberland Library system, and she was caring for the collections of 32 libraries in Washington.

She taught classes at Bates College in Tacoma. She said she once got a standing ovation and was amazed that she had made book mending the most fascinating thing they had ever heard in their lives. She laughed about that.

I asked her how she repaired a book. She said that there is no one answer, but that she would start by inspecting a book, so she knew how to begin.

She said: “It’s like being a doctor looking at a patient, one on one, looking at how it is bound, seeing what you could do that wouldn’t damage the materials, and seeing what damage is reversible.”

And that’s Chris. She cared for us as individuals, all of us just a little damaged. We’re the pieces of our community and she was the glue that brought us together while making everything sound so fascinating.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone in so little time if you really listen.

Maybe some of you didn’t realize just how much she needed us. Now we are realizing how much we needed her.

It will take some time before I realize she doesn’t need a ride from community events and meetings.

She’s already home.

Above: The Capitol Theater marque reads, Rest in Power Chris Carson - We love you!