Tuesday, December 27, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ted Astley, Would Not Testify Before The Canwell Committee

Before Theodore "Ted" Astley died he told his family he wanted his body donated to science and he wished no memorial service.

He got part of his request. Mr. Astley's body was given to the University of Washington medical school following his death Dec. 8.

But as for the memorial service, said Mr. Astley's son Guy Astley, "we decided that in death, just like in life, you don't always get what you want, so we will have one anyway. He would laugh at the humor of it and roll his eyes."

Rather than a memorial service, it will be a "remembrance gathering," a celebration of Mr. Astley's life, his passion for justice, and his quiet pride for standing up to a government he believed violated human rights.

Mr. Astley, who was 74 when he died here following heart surgery, was one of four University of Washington employees who lost their jobs in the late 1940s for refusing to testify before the Canwell Committee, a state legislative panel that was investigating alleged Communist sympathizers.

During the hearing, Mr. Astley refused to acknowledge whether he was or had been a member of the Communist Party and, when he attempted to explain his reasons for not testifying, he was ejected by police and later fired by the UW.

That incident and his later refusal to testify before the U.S. House Committee on un-American Activities, cost him several jobs but did not diminish his spirit, said Mark Jenkins, an actor and playwright who featured Mr. Astley in a play he wrote about the Canwell hearings.

At the time of the hearings, Mr. Astley was a graduate student and veteran's counselor. When he learned of his dismissal, Mr. Astley said, "it should serve as a warning to all members of the staff of the University and to the people of Washington that we must press for freedom of thought by University staff members and for abolition of the Canwell committee."

Jenkins, who first met Mr. Astley last summer and became a close friend, said he once asked him what it felt to be so vilified. "He said it made him feel bad for about four minutes and then he decided `that guy's the fool, not me,"' Jenkins said. "He was so consistent, so unflappable. He had a quiet pride and was concerned about human justice all his life."

Although his activism cost him jobs he - unlike many others of his era - always landed on his feet, said Jenkins. "He lost jobs all through the 1950s. The FBI would show up, talk to his bosses, and he'd be fired the next day."

A lot of his resolve was stubbornness, said his son, Guy. "Everybody was afraid, literally scared to death. Dad shrugged his shoulders. He felt he could play their game as well as they could."

Eventually Mr. Astley earned a teaching certificate and taught in Seattle public schools for 20 years before retiring in 1982. He was active in the teachers' unions and was responsible for organizing the Seattle Education Association - Retired, a branch of the Washington Education Association - Retired.

Born in Atlanta, Mr. Astley grew up in Michigan where his father worked in automobile manufacturing. It was there his strong labor sentiment was born. "He would see workers staggering with fatigue, people fired at age 35 with no benefits," said Jenkins. In college he worked at a General Motors assembly line and read socialist literature.

After serving in World War II he went to the Seattle Labor School, created by progressive labor unions. For years he was a familiar face on picket lines throughout the area.

Guy Astley said his father never boasted about his run-ins with the government investigators, but once told his son: "If I had things to say about people in private, I can say them, but you ask me to rat on a friend or cause grievous damage to a friend I can't do that. There were people who did give in and they suffered for it. My conscience was always clear. I never turned anyone in or hurt anyone's life."

In addition to his son, Mr. Astley is survived by his wife, Charlotte, daughter Adrienne Jones and three grandchildren, all of Seattle. He is also survived by two sisters, Margaret Westrheim of Nanaimo, B.C. and Kate Bigler of Santa Maria, California.

The date of the memorial service has not been set, but will be sometime in January, Guy Astley said.

The family asks that any remembrances be given to a charity of choice.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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