The Rev. Mark Poole: Pastor fought injustices, inequalities
By M.L. LYKE, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
As a young father, the Rev. Mark Poole sent his children off into the world every morning with a soul-searching question. “What are you choosing to do with your life today?” he asked them. “How are you going to show that you care today?”
It was a question Poole could have answered at length. The progressive thinker, social activist and unapologetic Nader-ite — who served as associate pastor at University Temple United Methodist Church from 1985 until his retirement six weeks ago — felt deeply about social injustice, economic inequalities and discrimination. He cared, and he acted.
“He walked his talk,” said daughter Mary Poole, 44, a college teacher from Arizona. “He believed the purpose of the church was to serve the world.” Poole marched for civil rights, stood up against war, demonstrated at the World Trade Organization protests in the ’90s. With his wife, Jean, he helped start a homeless shelter at his church for young adults, ages 18-25 — a shelter that began with one bed and now has 25 to 30.
He liked tackling tough issues. He supported gay clergy in his church and performed gay-marriage ceremonies. He didn’t like the war in Iraq and was actively involved in The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization. He supported Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader against attacks after his initial run at the White House. “The Greens did nothing to (Al) Gore other than challenge him to be a Democrat,” he wrote in a Seattle Weekly letter to the editor.
Poole grew up in Ohio, one of three children of a poor tenant farmer and a young immigrant woman who’d escaped Nazi Germany. He rose early to milk cows — a habit that carried over into early rising the rest of his life. Farm life suited him, until he got the call to ministry and headed off to seminary. “That’s when he started to think beyond the words in the Bible to the
implications,” said his daughter Mary.
Working in small churches in the Cleveland area, he preached equal rights, started integrated preschools and often took his children from their suburban home into the inner city. “He told us that all the children of the world were equally important, and that the future he wanted us to grow up into was a just and equal world,” Mary said.
He was extremely critical of American materialism, and taught his children anti-consumerism first-hand. “We didn’t have stuff a lot of other kids had — the trips, horseback-riding lessons and other stuff,” said daughter Carol Poole, 40, of Kirkland. “It was very hard at the time, but today, I deeply appreciate it.” If one of his children complained, the reverend — prematurely bald with a great deep laugh — had a ready retort: “If life was fair,” he told them, “I’d have hair.”
Poole’s concern spread across international borders. He and his wife spent four years living in a small Egyptian village in the 1970s — not to promote religion but to help the population, half Muslim and half Christian, get a clean water supply, start a preschool and set up a cottage industry, making marmalade to sell in Cairo. For the last 10 years of his life, he devoted much of his energies volunteering for the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the culture of native Africans and protecting the animals and the land they roamed.
Poole’s family describes him as a feisty, friendly man who loved a good political debate, and loved winning them. “My mom always said, ‘When I met Mr. Right, I didn’t know his first name was Always,’ ” Carol said. He was devoted to the Mariners and was following Ichiro Suzuki up to bat right up to the time of his death.
After years of disabling heart disease, he was prepared for the end, and asked his family to hold “a religious service, a wake for stories, and I want you to have a hell of a party and make this my last big fund-raiser.” He thought a lot about his own heart, and the metaphoric heart of a community in his last days, said his family. He was preparing a last sermon called “The Amazing Heart” days before his death. “He was concerned about the possibility a society can lose its heart,” said Mary.
In addition to his wife and two daughters, Poole is survived by his son, John, of New York; sister, Marian Karpoff, of Seattle; and two brothers in Ohio.
In the summer of 1976 our son Jim, then just completing his freshman year of high school in Philadelphia as our family finished our Intern year in the Philadelphia House, decided to be deployed to the Phoenix House for his sophomore year. Mark and Jean were Priors there, and we were all comforted by their care and obvious love of children, as we took Jim out to be with them. One of our fondest memories of Mark was Jim’s relating to us that it was Mark’s practice to take Jim and Bruce Knowlton out for supper once a week (often to McDonald’s as I recall) so the ‘Boys’ could have their own private talks. Now those of you who remember both these boys will also remember how they just loved to push limits/buttons and be VERY adolescent! Mark not only did not succumb to being reactive (and thus delight these two), but according to Jim’s telling of the tale, seemed to thoroughly enjoy this teen-age hood style of being! It was Mark who also taught Jim to drive when he had his driver’s permit.
Part way through this year, Jean and Mark were deployed to El Bayad, which of course was Egypt’s gain, yet very much a loss for our son Jim. Jim now is in his early forties, married with a daughter of his own who is now 9 years old. It will give Jean and the others who remember Jim a huge chuckle to know that Jim says of Alexandria that she has the personality of both he and his wife Tamara, who is a wonderfully fiesty woman, and that he
is already getting himself prepared for the time when Ali will be a teenager!
Our family celebrates with all of you Mark’s wondrously completed life, and
keep Jean in our prayers. Love, God’s Grace and Peace and Comfort,
~~ Ellen Howie
Although this story is not directly about Mark Poole, it is my strongest association with him. In April, 1977, Mark and Jean came to Bayad, Beni Suef, Egypt. We had left our toddler son, Aaron, in the US with dear friends and colleagues when we first went to do community development in Bayad in September 1976, because we didn’t have clean water and a safe place to live at first. In the village, however, we were know as “Om Haroon” (Mother of
Aaron) and “Abu Haroon” (Father of Aaron), as most people were known by the
name of their oldest son.
We were far from phone lines and instant communication in the village, but we knew someone was coming to join us in a few weeks. On a hot, dusty afternoon, I was on my way to Cairo to do some business, and we had decided that when I got to Cairo I would send a telex to the US to ask to have Aaron sent with the people coming, because we now had clean water, a safe place to live, and a preschool that he could attend. Wayne was not feeling well that day, and was home in bed.
I walked the two kilometres down to the riverbank, and got on a felucca to cross the Nile to get to the taxis in Beni Suef. The air was hot, heavy, and full of sand, and I was nervous about traveling alone to Cairo. In the middle of the river, I was sitting with my head down, thinking about all I had to do, when suddenly I heard my name being called — in English — “Jo! Jo Nelson!” I turned around and saw, there on a felucca coming from the other side, Mark and Jean Poole and a small, round, white, blond and blue-eyed child! I jumped up in the boat, crying “Ebni, ebni — my son, my son!” Both boatmen knew that I was Om Haroon and that this must be Haroon, and they pulled the boats together in the middle of the Nile, and I jumped ship and went back towards Bayad.
Aaron was 22 months at the time, and hadn’t seen us since he was 14 months. He was sitting on Jean’s lap, and calling her “mommy”, since he had been traveling with them for a week or so to get to Bayad. I quickly arranged a taxi to carry us and all the gear to our house in the veterinary clinic. Along the way, Aaron still sat on Jean’s lap. I winked at him. He winked back! By the time we got to the house, he came to my arms and called me “mommy”. Then he started asking, “where da-da?” As we went up the steps, he asked about every man he saw. When I got to our room, Wayne got out of bed in his galabaya. I said, “there’s daddy”. Aaron hid his head. I said, “Quick, Wayne, put on a pair of pants.” Wayne did, and Aaron said “Dada!” and went right to him.
Mark and Jean brought a thoughtful, healing, calming sense to the staff in Bayad, and helped us through a number of crises. But I will never forget the care with which they reunited our family.