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Remembering Roger Thornton

Roger Thornton
Roger Thornton

SMRR Co-founder, Steering Committee member, and longtime SMRR Treasurer Roger Thornton died unexpectedly from a heart attack on October 27. He was almost 80 years old. Roger and his wife Chris have two daughters, Jennifer and Stephanie, and two grandchildren, Logan and Emilia.

In 1978 Roger was a member of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) when he and Chris came over to Cheryl Rhoden’s apartment one evening after we had lost the first Santa Monica rent control campaign. Denny Zane, also a CED member, recognized Roger, who joined the meeting and became a member for life.

A few years ago, Roger was giving his speech for election to the Steering Committee, and he said “The day that Rent Control passed was the best day of my life.” And what a party we had that night!

At the time, SMRR was a coalition of 4 groups: Santa Monica Fair Housing Alliance, Santa Monica Democratic Club and the Committee for Fair Rents, and CED. We had lost the first campaign because of lack of money, lack of experience, and lack of volunteers. But with Roger’s and CED’s help we won rent control in Santa Monica on April 10, 1979.

Roger was funny, smart and skilled. He was a master of the quick but funny one-liner. He became a real trouper (although he had been a Navy Swift Boater during the war in Vietnam). He eventually learned to understand hard to understand computer languages. At a meeting with Zane and computer programmer Michael Adams at the Brandywine Café on Lincoln in 1979, Roger was bitten by the data bug – big time! He learned the computer skills needed to enable us to do highly sophisticated targeted direct mail to Santa Monica voters, maintained our membership list, set up the newsletter, and managed SMRR finances and campaign reporting as Treasurer for over 30 years.

In Executive Committee meetings he argued strongly for what he thought was the best course.  He could be cranky and had a temper, as we all do, but it mellowed over the years.

In 1978, it wasn’t long after that first meeting before Roger also joined the Ocean Park Perspective, a small activist local newspaper. Roger learned how to do newspaper layout and production. The paper was delivered by activist-hand to every door in Ocean Park. The first article about rent control in Santa Monica appeared in the 1st issue of the Perspective.

We will miss Roger Thornton. Because of his work, and the work of other SMRR activists, tens of thousands of Santa Monica renters’ have lived their lives with a level of security renters in few communities have experienced. Thank you, our brother, Roger. We will miss you.