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April 07, 2006

Saying Good-by to Sally, my Political Parent

My very good friend, Sally Giovine-Kerr is dying.  She has had a scarring on her lungs for at least a year and has been in decline.  That decline turned rapid in just the last couple of weeks.  She is 82 and has led a good life and there have been a fair share of sorrows as well. 

She is one of those folks whose life touched many in the communities of which she was a part.  She had few stated roles, outside of being a Democratic precinct committeeperson for many years.  But she knew people all over the age and economic spectrums.  She made friends with people from the mayor’s wife to a guy she met who’d just come out of prison.  In the modern day organization, they would say her power and influence came in the white spaces, the spaces between the boxes on the organization chart.   

Sally is my political parent, the person from whom I most learned about politics and the importance of the political world on our individual lives.  I feel like I have made so much use of her knowledge and skills and have been able to build on what I learned from her.  Part of why I pay so much attention to politics and have for so long comes from knowing her.  Part of my ability to organize and my  awareness of the value of organizing comes from listening to her talk about walking the precincts. 

A few of our older readers may know Sally.  There have been times when she was a political presence in this city and before that in Olympia.  Much of it was before my time of knowing her and I’ve known her for thirty-four years, since I was in my early twenties.  It’s quite clear to me that had she been a man, she would have run for office.  As it was, she hobnobbed with many a politician and paid ferocious attention to what happened nationally and locally.

Sally’s understanding and analysis of the political world influenced me more than any other person in my life.  She had been paying attention to politics all her life.  I’d never met another grown-up, except for teachers, for whom that was true.  Most of the people I knew, of any age, came to their political awareness during the Vietnam War. 

For Sally, the connection between a person’s daily life and the politics of the day was intricately interwoven and she knew how to help people find that connection in their own lives.  She could ask them about their job and their family and they would just tell her about themselves.  At some point as they were talking, she might make some comment about how something they were troubled about was a result of a particular political action that had either been or not been taken and you would see the light go on for that person.  Oh, it wasn’t just them; it wasn’t their fault there were so few jobs available or that their child was having trouble getting the healthcare they needed.

Follow me over the jump.

Sally came into my life when I was twenty-three and she was forty-eight.  Her youngest son, Luke, was a student of mine at an alternative school I taught at.  We each had fairly similar thoughts about what schools should be in young people’s lives.  And she influenced me a lot, in big ways and small. 

I was already fairly political, had helped shut down the University while in student government at the U.W. in that tumultuous spring of 1970, had marched against the Vietnam War, co-organized the first environmental day at the University, and was now teaching in an alternative public school.  Those were heady times, times when we truly thought we really could and would change the world.  (Looking back I think we had many wonderful ideas and an awful lot of needless righteousness and no understanding of how slowly people changed.)

Sally was the first grown-up I’d met in my life who had been political when she was young.  It was a different era; grown-ups didn’t talk politics much in the suburbs where I came from, except for the teachers, and they were, of necessity, fairly careful.  Sally had come from a family of politicians and had always lived in a city – either Olympia or Seattle.  Her father, Carlton, had been a State Senator, a Republican I imagine, but one of those upstanding Republicans we used to have.  She grew up in Olympia and knew folks in government.  Her sister, Zan, married a big labor leader, Joe Davis.  Her first husband, Peter Giovine, had been Director of the Employment Development Division and they had been friends with then governor Al Rossellini and his wife and ran with a very political crowd, primarily Democrats. 

Yet I had heard her say many times that during the McCarthy Era, she and her husband had almost no one they could talk with about what was going on politically.  They had only one set of friends, a couple who lived in Oregon and whom they visited with a couple times a year that they could speak freely with.

The McCarthy Era had essentially gone over the heads of my parents and pretty much all other grown-ups I’d known, outside of some of the professors at the U.  So it was quite enlightening to hear the stories of that time and the fear that people carried around with them. 

Sally still carried a lot of what I thought of as paranoia about how easy it would be for our society to go back to that time and voiced that fear regularly during the years I knew her.  It simply made no sense to me with what I saw as pretty good politicians and a robust media.  Ha!  How right she wound up being. 

She hated war, having known so many young men who were killed in WWII, having a husband who died young from illnesses contracted in the Pacific.  She marched with us, she and her second husband, Bob Kerr, in the late sixties, two of the whiter heads in that time.  I appreciated the historical perspective she provided all those years for me and so many others around her.  It has made me ever so aware of how valuable it is to stay political through ones life, of how useful to have political connections across the ages.    

I will miss Sally in my life for many reasons.  Foremost amongst them is her keen sense of how personal the political is.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 7, 2006 at 09:02 AM in Miscellany | Permalink


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Thank you for the wonderful piece on Sally. I appreciate knowing more of the details of her past, and I respect her all the more for it. It has been my priviledge to have known her these last 12 years. I only wish that Nadia was old enough to have gotten to fully appreciate Sally's wisdom and vitality.

Posted by: randy | Apr 7, 2006 2:30:54 PM

Lynn --

I appreciate reading about Sally and this personal -- and shared -- political histor. Staying in the game -- continuing to work as times change, providing context/perspective and connection between people, times, and trends -- that's a major contribution. I've seen it powerfully at work in the short time since I've ventured into this world of citizen politics.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Apr 8, 2006 7:23:39 PM

Sally and Peter Giovine bought the house across the street from my parents when I was about 13. I was one of their regular baby-sitters, and loved spending time with Sally and Peter. My parents also were life-long democrats and Sally often came over to our house in the early evening to discuss the events of the day. I was a junior in college when Peter died, leaving Sally pregnant with their fifth son (Luke); she was a very young widow and we all grieved with her.

Sally has always represented the word "classy" to me; no matter what she wore or what she was doing, she had a style and demeanor that set her above anyone else I ever knew. I loved and admired her dearly and do to this day.

Yesterday my brother I and drove up to Seattle to see Sally on what was surely one of her last days. As ill as she is, she still has those fabulous cheekbones and luminescent skin that have made her such a great beauty on the outside; the miriad of relatives and friends gathered around her bed were testimony to her inner beauty.

The world will be a lesser place without Sally. She cared so passionately about so much, and she was never afraid to speak her mind. I know, because I was occasionally on the receiving end of her thoughtful criticism. I married a career Marine Corps officer, and although Sally was vehemently against the war in Vietnam (as was I, for more personal reasons), she was always warm and welcoming in her greeting of Phil on the times we came to Olympia while she was our family neighbor.

Sally, we love you. As I whispered to you yesterday, have a safe journey as you leave us. Heaven must be waiting so eagerly for you to continue your advocacy there!

Posted by: Judy Lynch Weigand | Apr 10, 2006 10:03:16 AM


Thanks for writing about your thoughts and remembrances. Sally has spoken often of your family, and how important you all and particularly your Mom was to her especially when she was first a widow.

I think knowing someone like Sally makes us better people and that's a pretty amazing legacy.

Posted by: Lynn | Apr 10, 2006 8:18:16 PM

Sally was one of the strongest people I ever met. She could tell a complete stranger that they shouldn't litter or scream at their child...and they would listen and stop. She could host a "men's group" and make an amazing salad dressing from scratch. Chickens ran thru her kitchen on the farm and she hosted "society women" for tea. She owned expensive property and once taught a class on "dumpstering." I miss her greatly.

Posted by: Terry Watness | May 3, 2006 2:48:24 PM

Sally Giovine really tought me to be the man I am today. When I see a bumper sticker that says, "Think Globally, Act Locally" I can hear her saying that. Every politcal act, no matter how small, is huge. I learned that from her. Every act of love, no matter how small, is huge. I learned that from her. Sally's son Marc was my best friend growing up, the Giovine house was raucus, loving and wonderful. Sally always challenged us, made us think. I can still hear the indignation in her voice when she saw a wrong and the approval when she saw a wrong made right. Her broad grin and the marvelous, lively sparkle of her eyes are burned into my mind and give me the strength to challenge the wrongs I see today. I shall truly miss her, and the world is truly a poorer place with her passing, and a better place for her having been here.

Posted by: Craig Cody | Jun 16, 2006 12:34:24 AM

From this child's perspective the loss of mom is so hard, not only because Sally is my mother, but also the grandmother of my children, who I wish had her to teach them about the world and themselves. I try, but as a parent the message isn't as strong to the child and gets confused with the little day to day lessons I try to teach my children. My children will miss her more than then they will realize.
Even today, after 47 years, I get clearer understanding of Sally from the thoughts and comments of others which knew her. It makes it that much more painful to have loss what is the history and connective webbing of the Giovine Family. Her influences on those around her were never used as any personal gain, unless you looked at her emotional gains from helping people be in touch with themselves and hopefully in touch with their community and world around them. She made me what I am today, although some of what she helped me molded into my life I may “mumble under my breath at her”, I miss her very much. I missed not living in the same state, and so much more now I have loss the grandmother of all spiders, the designer my families web. My love to my mother and all those who loved her…….Luke

Posted by: Luke Giovine | Sep 13, 2006 6:00:34 PM

I first met Sally at the alternative school Luke attended and Lynn taught at, when I was a child... fast forward a decade or so, and she and I became friends, meeting when we could and sharing what was going on in our lives. She helped me and so many others get clear in our lives, and always supported our processing and claiming our right to just be who we are.
I hope some of that attitude has rubbed off on me, and will continue to walk through my life with the grace she saw in me.

Posted by: Kate | Nov 3, 2006 8:57:02 PM

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