Corine Hodges Thornton (1922-2022)

November 19, 2022
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Nate and Corine Thornton on the way to Cuba to challenge the US travel blockade, 1993.

She lived in California most of her life but never lost the distinctive accent she learned as a daughter of the heartland. Legend has it that she was related to Jesse James, an early proponent of the redistribution of wealth, and that she knew the story of Mary Yellin Lease, the prairie populist who exhorted farmers to “raise less corn and more hell.” These were her roots.

Corine Hodges Thornton, hell-raiser for the working class and longtime Executive Secretary of the Bay Area post of the Veterans of the American Lincoln Brigade, left us on August 11 of this year, less than two months short of her 100th birthday. She is survived by two of her six children, fourteen grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband of over twenty years, Nate Thornton, a Lincoln Brigade vet.

Growing up in Kansas City during the depths of the Depression, Corine was deeply moved by the poverty around her and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. As a teenager, she read a newspaper account about the attack on democracy in Spain and became a lifelong anti-fascist and supporter of the International Brigades.

After WWII, Corine landed in San Francisco and with her husband, the muralist Neal Hoskins, and became a member of the Communist Party. That didn’t last long. She was kicked out for “questioning authority,” a quality that endeared her to many of us and irritated some of us.  She was once described as a “contrarian,” but also as someone who “didn’t suffer fools.” An old friend from Women for Peace recalled that “Corine endured longwinded opinions but delivered her own crusty blurbs resetting the condition of the world . . . often with a twinkle in her eyes.”

Corine worked as a union waitress for many years and was fiercely involved in the struggle against the class system. “My mother was proud of her union pension,” her daughter Shirley Hayes said, “because it was rare for a waitress and represented what she believed.”  (Shirley provided loving care for her mother during the waning years of her life.)

Corine’s activism was wide ranging: the School of the Americas Watch, Grandmothers for Peace, VALB, the Fort Point Gang, the ILWU’s “Bloody Thursday” commemorations, the Hayward Democratic Club, Women for Peace, and the Marin Inter-faith Task Force, to name just a few. She often wore her “Thank God I’m an Atheist” button, but strangely enough, was a good friend and loyal supporter of radical Catholic priests Roy Bourgeois, Charlie Liteky, Bill O’Donnell, and Louis Vitale.

Corine was the kind of organizer whose work sometimes goes unnoticed. She made the calls, sent the notices, delivered the goods, did the follow-ups. She ferried carloads of activists to picket lines and protests in a car plastered with leftwing bumper stickers. Martha Jarocki, whose father Leonard Olson was a Lincoln vet, regarded her as a mentor. “She was the last of that generation,” Martha noted, “and she wanted to show the way to the next generations.”

In the immortal words of Tom Joad that so stirred the young Corine Hodges: “Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there . . . and when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in houses they built—why, I’ll be there.”

She was there. ¡Salud!

Don Santina is a political writer and novelist. He can be reached at lindey89@aol.com.

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