Ella J. Lively, a World War II veteran, community volunteer and fearless activist who devoted herself to peace and justice issues from civil rights to the war in Iraq, died March 5, her family said. She was 90.
The daughter of a Sonora newspaper family, Mrs. Lively voiced strong views about equality and fairness and backed them up with action. In the early 1950s, while teaching elementary school to support her husband in college, she helped organize an NAACP chapter in a segregated Chicago suburb – a move that got her family evicted from their apartment.
“There were consequences to things she did back then that we wouldn’t even think of today,” her son Charles Quinn said.
Mrs. Lively traveled to Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s to participate in Freedom Summer activities with the Congress of Racial Equality. An early opponent of the Vietnam War, she participated in a national peace walk and attended anti-war rallies in Washington.
She settled in Rancho Cordova by 1973 and worked for state drug and alcohol programs. An active member of Grandmothers for Peace, she was arrested many times for civil disobedience at Mather Air Force Base while protesting nuclear weapons and U.S. military actions in Central America.
She was a regular at rallies against the death penalty at the state Capitol. Until several years ago, she joined a small band of grandmothers who met every Tuesday at 15th and L streets in downtown Sacramento to hold signs calling for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.
“Ella was all about justice and peace,” said longtime Sacramento social activist Chris Delaney, who was arrested with her in Grandmothers for Peace. “She was so genuine and sincere. There was no phoniness about her.”
The former Ella Louise Jones was a descendant of Welsh immigrants who arrived in California and established newspapers in Ferndale and the Modesto area before settling in Sonora in the late 1800s. Born Feb. 1, 1924, to Charles and Grace Jones, who published The Banner newspaper in Sonora until the 1950s, she attended a one-room schoolhouse in Shaw’s Flat and graduated from Sonora High School.
She enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and met Frank A. Quinn, who later was Western regional director for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She married him in 1944, had two children and was divorced. She graduated from University of Oregon and earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from San Francisco State University.
She married Henry T. Lively in 1970 and worked for the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in Los Angeles. After her husband died in 1988, she helped neglected children in the Court Appointed Special Advocates program and volunteered at the Rancho Cordova public library, Capitol Public Radio and a food bank.
A woman of strong opinions who “definitely erred on the side of being blunt,” Mrs. Lively mellowed as a grandmother, her son said. Besides hooking rugs and embroidering, she enjoyed reading, growing roses and watching “Jeopardy” on TV. She treated a foster youth to regular dinners and movies, and she helped at the library until she could no longer drive at age 87.
“My mother was willing to put herself on the line for what she believed in,” her son said. “When the right thing to do was join the Army and fight the Nazis, she did that – and when it was fighting for civil rights and opposing war, she did that. She had principles, and she never wavered.”
Mrs. Lively was predeceased by her daughter Susan Quinn. In addition to her son, she is survived by a sister, Lilian Robinson; stepchildren Terri Lively, Jan Larson, Raquel Lively-Zaro and Phillip Lively; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
No public service is planned.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.