As young people in Mississippi challenging segregation, Ralene Hearn and her late husband, Roger, often felt that they were the only liberals in the state. Then they found support from Friends in Baton Rouge Meeting, which Ralene joined as a convinced Friend.
Travelling the country with Roger’s job as a pipeline engineer, they sought a more welcoming place to settle. They found that friendly place in Mendocino County, where they built a home and raised their daughter, Ralanya. From the other side of the country, Ralene continued her membership in Baton Rouge Meeting, her way of supporting one of the rare liberal communities in Mississippi. She also kept her distinctive Southern drawl or accent.
Ralene was a trained musician. In Mendocino County she had a band called Sweet Water. Then she took a job teaching at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, a position and place she very much enjoyed and would have remained; but with the birth of grandchildren, she chose to return to California to be near family.
Tragically, in 1999 Ralene suffered head trauma in a traffic accident that left her terribly debilitated. Roger quit his job to be her caregiver. Then when he died of cancer in 2015, she was placed in a care-facility in Sebastopol.
Determination was a hallmark of her personality: determination to stay alive, and do things she found enjoyable. She sent Apple Seed Meeting an inquiry and subsequently worshipped with us almost every week. She also played piano for the senior citizen center in Sebastopol for several years.
Ralene considered her civil rights and social justice work to be her legacy. The 1979 confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan, when she chose to play tennis with a black student on a “Whites Only” court, and her testimony before Congress, after she discovered that 1969’s Hurricane Camille’s black victims did not receive the same federal aid, that white victims had received, give a sense of how committed she was to Friends’ testimonies. Both incidents resulted in justice prevailing after federal intervention. She paid a personal cost, being forced to live under federal protection and ultimately relocating.
There is an old query, “What does it mean to live now as though the kingdom of God has already come?” The inward spirit's reply to the oft uttered: “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth….”
Some very old Quaker disciplines explain why it was that Friends had no stones in their cemeteries. The explanation was short and sweet, in a way all too typical of early Friends e.g.: that the real memorial to one who has passed is, and should remain, in the minds of those who remember. Friends back then were in the habit of taking on things that a person said or did as an inward memorial, a personal reminder and inspiration.
Ralene’s strength of character and determination to move forward when led impressed and inspired us all.