By Pam Emerson
When I met Carol in 1975, she was engaged in a struggle to preserve space for poor people – benches to sit on, apartments to live in, small groceries and small places to eat. She had been doing this for years in several venues, including the Beachhead.
She was also a story teller and a fun lover and an appreciator of cats. When I knew her best we were near neighbors and could visit in the evenings and have endless discussions of fairness and foolishness, selfishness and justice, self-righteousness and pomposity and the deceptions of men – and women.
In the seventies Carol was concerned with preserving the two sided benches on Ocean Front Walk where elderly residents had been accustomed to sit. Roller skating had become popular. Roller skaters were moving the wood and concrete benches that had stood on Ocean Front Walk for years to separate themselves from slow-moving pedestrians, creating a need for repairs. The City budget was again limited, and the Bureau of Street Maintenance decreed that it would no longer repair the benches. Carol was a vocal participant in the ensuing controversy that was resolved only after the construction of the bike path out on the beach.
She was scathing about the lack of consideration of the young for the old, and of the rich for the poor but in discussing other issues; she could turn around and point out the need for room for families, for small merchants, even for vendors. Carol did not hew an ideological line; she was more interested in fairness. She would raise an issue so that it could not be ignored, but she was not entranced by ideological purists.
She appreciated people who saw things differently but detested bullies. In fact, Carol could scent a bully a thousand miles away, pluck the stuffing out of his coat and describe each wiggling string for the benefit of her cats. She was suspicious of abstractions because abstractions describing programs often left out the people they were supposed to benefit.
She criticized community improvement programs that included no housing; loans to enable people to restore housing for low income people that had catches and loopholes such as twenty year limits for the low-income housing, or contracts that allowed the recipient of the loan to refinance and opt out once the market went up. She would not get into the technicalities; she would just point out that the housing was supposed to be there and somehow it was not; the program had the name, but did not deliver the goods.
People who did not understand her view of public, open space may not have understood the growing conflict she had with vendors along Ocean Front Walk who now did not permit her, grown old and feeble, to sit on the very benches she had fought so long to replace. Whenever you talked to Carol any opinion you had turned out to be a little bit wrong because she had noticed something and you had not and the conversation was off. Carol was a moralist and an essayist and a humorist and a generous person. We will miss her.