I'm pretty sure Clarence Kailin would have gotten a kick out of that headline. He was, on the occasions our paths crossed over the last two decades or so, a remarkably warm individual, with a twinkle in his eye.
Kailin was serious about the cause of peace and justice -- so serious he risked his life in its pursuit -- but he also enjoyed himself, and like to have a good laugh. Being an activist wasn't just work; it was fun.
In a January 2001 Isthmus cover story on his life entitled "Unrepentant Red," Kailin recounted how, ten years earlier, a headline in the Cap Times had asked whether he was, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, "Madison's last communist." Kailin's reply was to print up buttons proclaiming this not-so-singular distinction.
"A piece in Isthmus said I'd give these buttons for free to anyone who would wear them, just as health care and education were free in the Soviet Union," recalled Kailin in the article. And when more than 100 people requested these "Madison's Last Communist" buttons, Kailin realized he had a movement on his hands.
Thus he created the monthly "Socialist Potluck" that over the years brought together hundreds of people who didn't mind displaying a tint of red in their politics.
Kailin, who died at age 95 on Sunday, a day after suffering a stroke, was perhaps Madison's most ardent leftist. In the late 1930s, when he was a young man, Kailin was among the 2,800 Americans who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the fight against fascism in Spain. He fought for two years alongside Spanish loyalists against fascists led by Francisco Franco, sustaining serious injuries.
But what was more remarkable was Kailin's lifelong commitment to social justice -- as a labor organizer, civil rights advocate, and a crusader against militarism and for universal health care. He remained active to the end, a fixture at Madison events aimed at promoting these causes.
Kailin's devotion has been recognized throughout his career. The Madison Veterans for Peace chapter is named after him. In 1999, he was selected to dedicate a monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade unveiled in James Madison Park. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Russ Feingold have offered citations in his honor. Hundreds of people turned out for his 95th birthday party in May.
But all those who knew him know that the greatest honor he aspired to, and the one he has most earned, is the inspiration he gave to others who will now have to carry on without him.