In Memoriam: Cleo Kocol

It is with great sadness that FFRF reports the death on July 5 of longtime atheist and feminist activist Cleo Fellers Kocol, 90, a Lifetime Member of FFRF.

Cleo was born in Cleveland on Jan. 12, 1927, and was always glad to share a birthday with Jack London, as her beliefs often echoed his. She grew up in a nonreligious household and followed proudly in her mother’s intrepid feminist footsteps. After high school, she worked for the Department of the Navy during World War II and then as a medical secretary, doctor’s assistant and assistant hospital administrator.

When Cleo was 43, she married Hank Kocol, a health physicist. Her feminism and atheism came to the fore when she and Hank lived in New Jersey in the 1970s and joined FFRF and the American Humanist Association. She served on AHA’s national board and chaired its feminist caucus for many years and was AHA’s Humanist Heroine in 1988. Cleo has a patio stone with her and Hank’s name engraved on it in the courtyard of Freethought Hall.

The Kocols moved to Washington state in 1979 and became part of a weekly Sunday picket at the Mormon Temple in Bellevue to protest the church’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. She and 20 others were arrested in 1980 for chaining themselves to the temple gates to stop Mormon President Spencer Kimball from entering, the first of her three civil disobedience arrests. The other two actions took place in Washington, D.C., in front of the White House and at the Federal Building in Seattle.

Moving to California, Cleo and Hank became charter members of Atheists and Other Freethinkers, started a highway cleanup project and were active in Humanists of Greater Sacramento Area. In Roseville, Calif., she and her husband started and co-chaired for 13 years the Humanists of Sun City, Roseville.

Cleo was an award-winning poet, an avid scrabble player and active in her community. She traveled extensively and enjoyed reading, good movies and “small dinner parties with good talk.”

In the early 1980s, Cleo wrote and performed three different hour-long women’s history shows, spotlighting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger and other feminists.

She was commissioned by the Navy to write and perform a short play about “Amazing” Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer and one of the first women Navy commodores, who later rose to the rank of rear admiral. Cleo’s memoir The Last Aloha was published in 2015. It details her humanism and feminism and life with Hank, from their meeting in 1970, to their “carrying forth the freethinker’s word,” to his death in 2013.

“I write because the answers to the questions posed seem like pure common sense and because the Religious Right has gotten a stranglehold on our country, although they hide their presence behind euphemisms,” Cleo wrote. “They pretend not to be anti anything, but they certainly are anti-woman, anti-nontheists, and anti-common sense. They, by the voting public’s apathy, have taken over Congress, and we in the secular movement will come to regret it if we sit on our hands.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation