As FFRF honorary director and famed neurologist Oliver Sacks poignantly wrote before his own death:
“My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”
Connie Threinen, who died Sept. 17 at nearly 97, is part of that generation “on the way out.” And her death leaves a hole. There certainly will never be anyone else, ever, like this adorable-in-person, vigorous, thoughtful and forward-thinking woman.
Connie was born on Dec. 10, 1925, in Belmont, Mass., and attended Mount Holyoke College, finishing her degree in economics in 1948 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her husband Bill Threinen predeceased her, and they are survived by three children, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. She died with her family by her side.
Connie, who lived in Middleton, Wis., a bedroom community to Madison, was a peer and colleague of my mother Anne Gaylor, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s principal founder. Connie was an early member and supporter of FFRF, joining in 1978 when FFRF first became a national organization.
Long before our wonderful ally Ron Reagan recorded his television commercial for FFRF describing himself as “an unabashed atheist, not of afraid of burning in hell,” Connie had labeled herself “an unabashed atheist.” My mother invited her to give a speech at our annual national convention in October 1990 in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Connie titled her talk, “An unabashed atheist looks at women and religion.” She opened that speech by observing: “This convention is one of the few places in the country where one could be announced as an atheist and not expect shock, disbelief and scorn in response.” It is religion, she said, that “still keeps women ‘in their place.’” Connie called her step to atheism “short and painless” after being brought up in a Unitarian family.
Connie worked for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Outreach Division for 28 years, directing innovative educational problems for women, then went on to chair the Wisconsin Women’s Network, a coalition of 100 Wisconsin organizations working to advance women’s rights. She kept her hand in, teaching classes such as “Quest for Equality” at the UW Extension, including lectures broadcast over the university’s educational network. She was also active with the League of Women Voters. Her activism after retirement included chairing a committee advising the Department of Public Instruction about sex education.
Connie turned up at decades of feminist gatherings (many that she organized herself), protests and many local FFRF events. Even in 2010, when she was in her late 80s, Connie was game to be part of FFRF’s launch in Madison of our “out of the closet” billboard campaign. She was one of about 24 local members appearing on a revolving digital billboard (see photograph) filled with irreverent freethinkers coining their own slogans.
Connie Threinen did much to make the world a better, more rational and more egalitarian place. She is truly irreplaceable.