My wife Ellen’s political roots have not only been significant in Ontario, Canada but also in the State of California, USA. In an earlier posting (see ‘When Tragedy Strikes’, August 29, 2009), I recounted how Edward Latimer had travelled to California following a personal tragedy and there met and married Mattie Diona Knox. Mattie’s father, Thomas Elliott Knox (pictured on the left) was at the time the Mayor of Livermore, California.
Thomas was born on March 13, 1855 in Huron County, located in south-west Ontario. By the age of 15, he had ventured out on his own, first working on the lumber industry of neighbouring Michigan followed by taking up the bricklaying and plastering trades. Eventually, he made his to California and the town of Berkely in Alameda County. While working there at his trade, his political leadership skills quickly came to the fore when he assisted in organizing the town. In 1879, Thomas was elected as the Town Marshal, a position he held for two terms. By 1880, Thomas was able to purchase 150 acres of land in nearby Livermore where he started a vineyard. Also through his political connections, he met, and in 1881, married Amy Squires, the daughter of Berkeley’s Treasurer, John Squires. By the early 1890’s, Thomas was employed in the County Assessor’s office. But politics was ‘in his blood’ so in 1899, Thomas, a staunch Republican, was successful in his bid for a Livermore Trustee seat.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Thomas as the Livermore Postmaster, in addition to his other town duties. Thomas was said to be “acquiring a comfortable competence for his family.” Eventually, as Livermore grew and the political structures changed, Thomas ran successfully for the position of County Supervisor, which he held for many terms in spite of mud slinging episodes and allegations, later proven to be false, of election fraud.
Thomas’ community spirit even lead him to participate, along with other county supervisors, in a Vaudeville-style show in 1922, although the program doesn’t specifically list his ‘talent’ nor the role he was to play. As a community leader, he also befriended other local leaders including the then District Attorney Earl Warren who would later become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and ‘author’ of what is now known, and often maligned, as the Warren Commission Report that examined the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Thomas Knox died in January 1938 but his influence and contributions to the history of California and the city of Oakland in particular continue to be the source of tributes.