A few memories of Lucy Forest

Lucy and Dad at the circus with Wendy, Thomas and Dan (Alkmaar, 1985)
Lucy and Dad at the circus with Wendy, Thomas and Dan (Alkmaar, 1985)

[to be read at the memorial service in Santa Rosa 15 March 2015]

Nancy: Lucy was the last of the elders in our family, the last of her generation. All the rest are gone. And what an elder she was! No one will take her place. Strong and feisty, yet kind and generous, she’s a model for all of us — and especially for women. One tough cookie, and she always managed to look good.

Jim: I first met Lucy in 1969, the year she married my father. In fact I was the best man at their wedding. Theirs was a friendship that maintained its original intensity to the very end. While they were quite capable of disagreement, it was a real partnership full of care for the other. I recall when dad was close to death in 1990, receiving home hospice care, his telling me in a whisper that he was dying but instructing me not to tell Lucy as he didn’t want to upset her. Of course she knew.

Those who were close to Lucy will remember her for all sorts of things: peace campaigner, affordable housing activist, advocate for the elderly, foe of racism and just about any problem in the world that made people enemies of each other. A hurricane wind blew inside of Lucy obliging her to do whatever she could to make the world a more caring, less fearful place. We all know this. But not so many people can remember being her house guest. I recall the couch that unfolded to become a bed in their small living room at Santa Rosa Commons, the housing cooperative she and my father cofounded. It wasn’t a folding bed I would recommend. In fact it was proof of the existence of purgatory. My back still has some dents that I acquired from using it. Even so it was good being their guest.

One of the best aspects was listening to their conversations in their adjacent bedroom. I wasn’t an intentional eavesdropper but in those close quarters it was simply impossible not to overhear. I got to witness their custom of reading aloud to each other from a book before turning out the light. On one occasion, it must have been in 1988, it happened they were in the middle of one of my books, Pilgrim to the Russian Church, a diary-like account of Orthodox religious life in what was still Soviet Russia. They would read a few paragraphs and then pause to discuss the text — a two-person book club. The single sentence I remember best was “Isn’t that amazing?” They seemed to takes turns saying it. I came to realize that a big part of the glue in their remarkable marriage was their endless curiosity and their shared capacity to be amazed. (Their custom of reading aloud to each other rubbed off on us — we’ve been doing it for many years.)

Nancy: Lucy and Jim Senior came to stay in our house in Alkmaar in 1985. Jim and I were going to Israel for three months and we took two of our children with us. While in Holland, Lucy spent much of her time researching the Dutch infrastructure, especially water management, housing and health care. She found out things we never knew, things we completely took for granted. Even today I guess Lucy discovered more about the Dutch social infrastructure than we’ve ever found out on our own. And she and Jim took the rest of the kids, Daniel, Wendy and Thomas, to the local circus! We have a copy of a wonderful photo that was taken by a local journalist and was featured in the city newspaper – Grandma and Grandpa enjoying the circus with their grandkids. The line-up is as follows: Wendy, then Lucy, then Thomas, then Jim Senior, then Dan. There’s a story there: Jim and Lucy obviously placing themselves strategically between each kid to keep them from fighting. I think it worked. The photo shows Lucy and Jim clapping and smiling broadly.

Jim: Lucy could take some very surprising stands. Beth Forest told us that when my mother Marguerite came to San Francisco and met Lucy for the first time, she and Lucy got along like a house on fire. Lucy liked Marguerite, a fellow campaigner, so much that she scolded Dad for leaving her!

: By the way, Lucy was a very good cook. One thing that has entered our family vocabulary is a particularly scrumptious recipe we learned from Lucy, which we have always called Grandma Lucy Chicken. It’s a dish with African plus Latin American roots. Jim had been visiting Lucy and Jim Senior in Santa Rosa and Lucy cooked it for him, and Jim like it so much he asked for the recipe. We’ve made it dozens of times, and the kids still ask for it. We’ve brought along some copies for anyone who wants one.

Jim: A final thought: In one of Jim Henson’s movies, “The Dark Crystal,” a babushka-type lady, old as the hills, asks the film’s hero what has become of a certain wizard. She is told the wizard died. “Then he could be anywhere,” she says, looking around in every direction. I have that feeling about Lucy. She could be anywhere.

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Grandma Lucy Chicken

1 package chicken parts
3 T butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes, undrained
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 cup pitted dried prunes
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
3 green-tipped bananas, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

In large frying pan, melt butter. Add chicken, 4 pieces at a time, and cook, turning, until brown on all sides. Remove chicken to platter. In frying pan, add onion and garlic and sauté 1 min. Add wine, tomatoes with liquid, bouillon cube, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and prunes. Bring to a boil; return chicken to frying pan. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 45 min. or until chicken is fork tender. Remove chicken to serving dish. Remove and discard bay leaf; add mashed bananas and banana chunks to frying pan. Cook, stirring frequently, about 2 min. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serves 6.

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Champion of the have-nots, Lucy Forest dies at age 94

By Chris Smith

The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) / February 12, 2015, 9:05PM

Lucy Forest was a compact woman with a tiny apartment and a great, steely determination to do whatever she could to resolve or prevent injustice, war and other distortions of humanity.

A revered elder among Sonoma County’s left-of-center activists, Forest wielded her intellect and collaborative skills to build consensus to act against homelessness, neglect of the elderly, abuse of workers, discrimination and militarism. She co-founded the county’s Peace and Justice Center and also Santa Rosa Creek Commons, a housing cooperative in Santa Rosa.

She told of feeling fortunate to be alive and present for the celebration of her life that friends and family put on at the Commons last May. Some of the people closest to her also were with her when she died Friday at the age of 94.

Son John Cushing of Carpinteria said his mother’s life was so full and accomplished that it is hard for him to wrap his arms around all that she had done. But he said why she did most of it is simple:

“She cared about people.”

Forest’s stepdaughter, Tamara Kushner of Solana Beach, said there was no lightning-bolt moment that transformed her into a fighter for social justice. “It was that, early on, she saw the difference between the haves and the have-nots, and she decided to improve the conditions of the have-nots.”

In 1999, then-Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Democrat-Petaluma), doubly honored Forest by presenting peacemaker awards to both her and internationally renowned anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott of Australia.

In the latter part of her life, Forest remained focused on national and global issues while digging deeply into concerns of the elderly. As a leader of the former Gray Panthers and author of the former “On the Plus Side” column in The Press Democrat, she informed and advocated for seniors in areas such as housing, health care and continuing education.

Her rich, long life encompassed a startling diversity of work — the nearly lifelong peace activist was involved for a time in a secret rocket project at Caltech — international travel and three marriages.

She felt she at last got marriage right when she and longtime family friend and fellow widower and activist Jim Forest tied the knot in 1969. They made a dynamic duo, certainly in the area of affordable housing advocacy, until he died in 1990.

Four years later, Lucy Forest was present when the Burbank Housing Development Corp. dubbed a 48-unit low-income apartment complex in Windsor “Forest Winds.”

“He’d be absolutely ecstatic,” his widow said at the time. “It represents everything he believed in and worked for.”

The former Lucy Benner was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1920. She wrote in a series of recollections of her life that her family lived in a house so big “my mother even had a room for her canaries.”

But the house had to be sold after her father, Fernando Benner, died when she was 8 years old. “It changed everything,” she wrote.

She was sent to a convent school, then moved on to a Catholic high school. She enrolled at New York University, but, she wrote, “I was just overwhelmed by the size and the crowds. I had never seen anything like it. So I decided to go to secretarial school to have a skill.”

In 1939, “on a dare,” the nearly 19-year-old Lucy Benner applied for work at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. She wrote that she was hired and assigned to the Beech-Nut gum and baby food booth.

“When the fair started, we were the first place they organized, and we had to join the union. The start of a long history of working to support workers’ rights.”

From that first job, she went on to work for a New York magazine, What’s New, and a short time later moved cross-country to Los Angeles for a job with a commercial film production.

There she met a Caltech biologist, John Cushing. They married in 1942, not long after the U.S. entered World War II. The couple started a family and moved to Baltimore, then to Santa Barbara.

The future Lucy Forest discovered the Experiment in International Living, and she volunteered to place American students with families abroad. She wrote in the review of her life, “This was the start of what I’ve been doing ever since — working for peace and justice.”

After she divorced from John Cushing in 1963, she left Southern California for San Francisco, working first for Planned Parenthood and then the San Francisco Council for Civic Unity. Subsequently, she did campaign work for the late State Sen. Nick Petris and the Upward Bound program at UC San Francisco.

She and Jim Forest married in 1969. Eight years later, they left San Francisco for Santa Rosa upon hearing that some people there were keen to create a co-op housing project. They spent years helping to plan, obtain approval for and build Santa Rosa Creek Commons, and in 1982 they moved into one of the new units.

After the death of Jim Forest nearly 25 years ago, his widow relocated into a smaller space at the Commons. Longtime friend Andrea Learned said, “Remarkably, she lived in the fewest square feet of anyone I know.

“While Lucy didn’t take up a lot of square footage,” Learned added, “She was a force to be reckoned with.”

Preceded in death by a daughter, stepdaughter and stepson, Forest is survived by her son in Carpinteria, her stepdaughter in Solana Beach, stepson Jim Forest Jr. of Holland, 16 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.

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