Gene Knudsen Hoffman was a devoted Quaker and member of the Santa Barbara Friends Meeting, Santa Barbara, CA. She was born in Los Angeles, California, in January of 1919, to Valley Filtzer Knudsen, from the Midwest, and Thorkild Knudsen, who emigrated from Denmark in 1909 to found the Knudsen Dairy business. She died peacefully in Santa Barbara, California in July 2010.
Gene and her husband, Hallock Hoffman, became members of the Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena in 1951. Around this same time, Gene began writing a newspaper column and also became involved in peace and social justice work. Following her article on integration, she became the first white columnist for the African-American newspaper, The Amsterdam News.
She lived her Quaker beliefs through work as a peace activist, pastoral counselor, workshop facilitator, poet, columnist, author, and actress. Constantly reaching out to others in hospitality, compassion, and the arts, she touched many lives.
For over fifty years she traveled the world on behalf of world peace and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She spent a year of study at Pendle Hill and later studied with Thich Nhat Hanh. With Thich Nhat Hanh after the Vietnam War, she organized a retreat for veterans. This work laid the foundation for the Compassionate Listening Project. At the core of the Project’s mission was Hanh’s frequently quoted statement: “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” Gene was always a willing listener for all sides and gave careful consideration to resolve conflicts. When Alaskan hunters and fishers came into conflict with the indigenous people over hunting and fishing rights, Gene arranged Compassionate Listening sessions for the two groups through the American Friends Service Committee.
Gene earned a masters degree in counseling from Goddard College and worked to establish the Santa Barbara Counseling Center, providing low-cost counseling in the community. Additionally in the 1970s and 1980s, she became active in the Santa Barbara Re-evaluation Co-counseling community, an organization that taught and promoted peer counseling. In the Santa Barbara Friends Meeting, she served on Clearness Committees, Ministry and Care, and Peace and Social Concerns. Using her love of writing and acting in the community, she taught poetry for personal growth and healing.
Gene authored and published many books, pamphlets, and articles about her life, work, and ideas. Books on peace and reconciliation include Pieces of the Mideast Puzzle, 1991; No Royal Road to Reconciliation. 1995. Gene’s book, From Inside the Glass Doors, shares insights leading her to seek a MA in pastoral counseling from Goddard College. Her articles and essays were collected in a book: Compassionate Listening: the Writings of Gene Hoffman, Quaker Peace Activist and Mystic. edited by Anthony Manousos. 2003.
Judith Kolokoff, former AFSC regional director in the Pacific Northwest, said of Gene: “She is a real prophet. And she’s a remarkable facilitator. She has the capacity to bring out the very best of the truth in each individual.”
She is survived by six of her seven children, Nikolas Knudsen (Laurel) Boshco Hoffman, Valley Via (Richard) Reseigne, Erik Thorkild (Dierdre Hallman) Hoffman, Kristian Robert Hoffman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Kaj Lathrop Hoffman; six grandchildren: Shane Knudsen Boshco, Rayven Angel Boshco, Jack Rorian Pierce Boshco, Julianna LaRee Thompson Boshco, Brian Nickolas Paul Boshco, and Connor Wolf; her sister, Marie Christensen; her nephew, Neil Christensen; and her niece, Karen Dugas.