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Freethought Today · May 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Hank Kocol, 1937–2013

FFRF Lifetime Member Hank Kocol made his “Final Exit” on April 20, 2013, in Roseville, Calif. 

He is survived by his wife, Cleo, also a Lifetime Member, and sons, Henry Kocol and Steven Hall.

Born on July 16, 1937, Hank grew up in Chicago, attended Loyola University and received his master’s at Purdue University. He spoke seven languages, worked for the federal government and headed state agencies. As a health physicist, he worked in radiation protection, giving talks worldwide. He was a member of the Renaissance Society, various local freethinking organizations and the Sun City Democrats. He founded the Speakers Club in Sun City, Ariz. He was a founding/charter member of Atheists and Other Freethinkers, served as AOF president and was co-founder of the Sun City Humanists.

A world traveler, he and Cleo also logged 16 trips to Hawaii. He was an inveterate reader, enjoyed skydiving, hiking, the symphony, ballet and theater and never passed a museum without going in. 

A friend called him a “polymath, one of those ‘wow’ personalities who accomplished so much and was so quiet about it, you just saw the surface, points and ripples.”

According to FFRF member Ken Nahigian, Hank and Cleo met at a Parents Without Partners meeting “and almost immediately fell into a mutual enchantment. Hank invited Cleo for dinner. He was so nervous he dropped a plate of spaghetti.”

Not wanting to lose his dignity or become a burden, he took his death into his own hands.

“I do want freethinkers to realize that Hank was extremely brave, confident in his choice of his Final Exit,” Cleo said. “Because he had Alzheimer’s, he knew he had a short window of opportunity to self-deliver. He did it because he was already losing parts of his long-term memory and did not want to become a burden to me or lose all his intelligence, dignity and sense of self. He had always done The New York Times crossword in pen. In March he began to have trouble completing the puzzle. In April he could only fill in four or five words. We both knew it was time. I had first noticed the signs 10 years ago, and two years later he acknowledged his difficulties and was diagnosed. April 20 this year was a beautiful day in many ways, and later I may be able to talk about it in full. But he lived a full life, and I will miss him.” 

Judy Saint, director of FFRF’s new Sacramento-area chapter, recounts: “Cleo tells me one of his proudest moments was presenting the AHA Humanist of the Year award to Isaac Asimov. Others felt Mr. Asimov might not attend due to his fear of flying, but Mr. Asimov told Hank, ‘I was wondering when you would get around to asking me!’ Hank was able to introduce Mr. Asimov, making him smile as he delivered an inside line from one of Mr. Asimov’s books.”

“I was the beneficiary of Hank and Cleo’s hospitality, staying in their home for an event they coordinated with Atheists and Other Freethinkers in the Sacramento area,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Hank was a gentle man and firm freethinker, as well as a major booster of Cleo’s feminist activism. We’ll all miss him greatly.”

A celebration of Hank’s life will be held May 18.

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