Irene Hull, lifelong labor activist, died March 20 at the age of 98.
Irene Hull was 90 years old, ferrying toward the San Juan Islands with her family to scatter her daughter’s ashes.
The boatswain approached to give them the coordinates where they would pour the remains, but Mrs. Hull led the conversation in a different direction — she asked about his working conditions.
Mrs. Hull always cared about the working man. She advocated for union rights starting when she worked in a shipyard in the 1940s. She attended Communist Party meetings for nearly 70 years, even after she was named by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s. More recently, she put her energy into improving health care for seniors.
She died of pneumonia at The Caroline Kline Galland Home on March 20. She was 98.
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Mrs. Hull “was on the front lines of every major movement from the 1940s to 2011,” said her daughter, Pushkara Sally Ashford.
“One of the things she often said is, ‘I have so much faith in humanity, if they just have the right information, they will make the right choices,’ ” Ashford said. “A lot of what she did is to try to inform people.”
Born Feb. 22, 1913, in Republic, Kan., Mrs. Hull moved to Vancouver, Wash., in 1942. She installed insulation in ships with her husband and father in-law, who was a union organizer. As a woman, she couldn’t join the union, but she didn’t let that stop her from fighting for labor rights. She first spoke publicly before the Washington State Legislature, pushing for continued child care so women who worked during World War II could continue to do so afterward.
In 1942, she became a Communist Party member with her husband because she believed a socialist world would be more just. The couple later divorced.
Her daughter remembers a “desperate” time when her parents were named during hearings held by U.S. Rep. Harold Velde, after they had moved to Seattle and Mrs. Hull began working in restaurants.
“We had the FBI coming to our door; they visited her workplaces and scared her employers,” Ashford said. “What security threat is there in making salads in a hotel kitchen?”
Despite becoming a “social pariah” among her extended family members, Mrs. Hull persevered, Ashford said. She worked as a teacher and day-care provider, eventually ending her working life in the 1970s in the bookbinding industry.
Mrs. Hull furthered her work for labor rights in 1974 when she helped found the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She attended monthly CLUW meetings until the month before she died.
She traveled to Cuba three times with the Venceremos Brigade, trimming citrus trees and working with Cubans.
She became a peace activist and protested nuclear weapons. Once, in the late 1980s, she was arrested at the Trident submarine base, had an emergency appendectomy and led a friendship tour to Russia, all in the same month, her daughter said.
Even well into her 90s, Mrs. Hull went to demonstrations and passed out copies of People’s World, a liberal newspaper, at the Seattle Labor Temple every week.
“If you were trying to call Grandma Rene, nine times out of 10 you weren’t going to get a hold of her,” said Laurie Arnold, Mrs. Hull’s granddaughter.
Although she was always busy, she loved staying in and caring for her grandchildren when they were young. Arnold remembers visiting Mrs. Hull’s houseboat in Lake Union, swimming and going on speedboat rides.
Mrs. Hull took them to the Nutcracker at Christmas and if they were sick she made them gulp down healthy drinks, like “Tiger’s Milk,” a brown, slimy mixture of wheat germ, molasses and brewer’s yeast that Mrs. Hull drank every day.
Being healthy was important to Mrs. Hull. She felt everyone deserved affordable health care, so that became her main focus in the last period of her life.
Lonnie Nelson, Mrs. Hull’s friend for 70 years, fought alongside her for many causes, even getting arrested together at a Medicare-cuts protest in 1995. She remembers Hull as always on the go, even if it meant going on a Sound Transit access bus.
“I saw her a week before she died,” Nelson said. “She was happy. She was going to go to Olympia to one of the demonstrations, as long as she got a ride.”
In addition to daughter Pushkara Sally Ashford, Mrs. Hull is survived by daughter Beverly Rader, of Chehalis, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by daughter Marj Sutherland, of Tacoma.
Remembrances may be made to People’s World, P.O. Box 24806, Seattle, WA 98124.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 22 at the Seattle Labor Temple, Hall No. 1, 2800 First Ave.
Brittney Wong: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org