Human-rights advocate Elliott Noble Couden was tireless and courageous when it came to standing up for what he thought was right. A longtime resident of West Seattle, Mr. Couden died of old...

Share story

Human-rights advocate Elliott Noble Couden was tireless and courageous when it came to standing up for what he thought was right.

A longtime resident of West Seattle, Mr. Couden died of old age on Wednesday. He was 93.

Mr. Couden battled for the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a pivotal part of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1968, passed shortly after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Like King, Mr. Couden sought inclusion and equality. He testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the legislation and met with President Lyndon Johnson about the matter.

He served more than seven years on the Seattle Human Rights Commission, formed by Mayor Gordon Clinton in 1963. Appointed by Clinton when the group was established, Mr. Couden became chairman of the commission in 1970.

Mr. Couden was working in real estate when he joined the Seattle Human Rights Commission, said his daughter Virginia Stimpson. He battled housing discrimination even in the face of losing business and risking his children’s education funds.

“He started talking about the insidious ways that people prevented, in particular, African Americans from moving into West Seattle,” she said. “That’s what he was asked to Congress to testify about.”

Mr. Couden was inspired by King’s speeches, she added. “He picked up on a biblical or a moral mandate to do something, and so he made himself available.”

Stimpson remembered that her mother was worried about their three children, who were all about to enter college.

“My dad said, ‘We really don’t have a choice — this is what we need to do.’ “

Said close friend Clay Eals, former editor of the West Seattle Herald, “He went up against the establishment of his profession in advocating against racial redlining, and to me, it’s the perfect example of walking your talk; in other words, it’s integrity.”

Those who knew him remember Mr. Couden not only as a man who acted on his beliefs but as one who loved a good joke.

“At the same time as there’s this altruism, the guy was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known,” Eals remembered. “No joke was too corny. I mean, he could create a joke almost instantaneously, and often they were these great puns.”

Stimpson and Eals both said that Mr. Couden was making jokes right up to the end.

Described by loved ones as “curious,” and “just,” Mr. Couden was a passionate man who lived a full life. Raised in New York and St. Louis, Mr. Couden was active in church as a youngster. He relocated to Seattle in 1936 and worked as a salesman for a stock brokerage. He moved to West Seattle a year after he married his wife, Erma.

In 1941, Mr. Couden became a real-estate broker and sold homes in his neighborhood.

In 1948, he joined West Seattle’s Fauntleroy Church, holding leadership positions, and serving as president of the Greater Seattle Council of Churches.

In 1984, Mr. Couden founded the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, which he presided over until 1988. Eals then took over as the organization’s next president.

Mr. Couden will be missed by many in the community, Eals said.

“He had a great warmth and humor about him, and I think that allowed him to cope with a lot of … the serious sides of things that he pursued and encountered.”

Mr. Couden is survived by his wife; his son, William Couden of Walnut Creek, Calif.; daughters Stimpson of Mercer Island and Barbara Couden-Ochs of Oman; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at Fauntleroy Church, United Church of Christ, 9260 California Ave. S.W., Seattle.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 3003 61st Ave. S.W., Seattle, 98116; and Fauntleroy Church, United Church of Christ, 9260 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 98136.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 425-745-7809 or jhsu@seattletimes.com