From candy maker to civil rights activist: Lifetime achievement award honors Fred Haley


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

Everybody has to have a museum, Fred Haley announced recently, as he unlocked the door to his own— a roomy outbuilding nestled among trees on his Lakebay property.

“You don’t need a building to have a museum, just start collecting,” he advised.

It’s easy for him to say. Haley is the second-generation owner of Tacoma’s Brown & Haley Co., famous for its irresistible Almond Roca chocolates. In his 30 years at the helm of one of Tacoma’s largest exporters, he certainly had the opportunity to collect museum holdings.

But you won’t find much candy-factory memorabilia at the Fred Haley museum. Haley would much rather talk about his World War II memories and share clippings that commend his efforts in education, or a poem he wrote when he first met his late wife. He says he became involved with his father’s company by default, because he was a good salesman.

A Navy uniform, decades-old grass skirts from Bora Bora, certificates of recognition from the American Civil Liberties Union, photos of Forest Service workers and World War II battle cruisers, article clippings about the communist “Red Scare,” his unfinished watercolor painting of Vaughn in the 1930s, a self-published poetry book, a personal letter from Eleanor Roosevelt, a photo of University of Washington’s Gather Building with the inscription “The house that Fred built” — these unique artifacts barely skim the surface of the 90-year-old’s rich, if not controversial, life.

At least controversial enough for the FBI to open a file on him, including a statement that says he was a traitor to his class. After all, when during the McCarthy era Haley spoke in support of a teacher labeled a communist, he received the label himself.

“There are so many facets to his life that you’d have trouble keeping up,” says Ron Magden, whose biography on Haley is awaiting publishing and who has been a good friend for 40 years.

Haley himself didn’t have trouble keeping up with what mattered. When he heard that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be speaking at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in August 1963, Haley flew to the capital just to hear “I Have a Dream” in person.

“I decided to be part of it,” he says—but it wouldn’t be the only time he realized, before many others did, that history was being made.

“He said it was the most memorable religious experience he’d ever had,” Magden says.

Religious experience? From a man whose Methodist upbringing drove him to steer clear of religion?

“Fred came out (of his childhood) disliking organized religion, but he is a Good Samaritan; the principles of Christianity are knee-deep in him, that’s the paradox,” Magden says.

Some of his principles were far from popular. For example, Haley refused to join the chamber of commerce because it would not take a stand on apartheid and stop doing business with Africa. When he fought for the rights of minorities in Tacoma, years before the fight became popular, his candy factory was boycotted by businesses. School segregation, Japanese internment, communist labeling — Haley had enough energy and courage to fight them all.

“I knew I wasn’t popular,” he says. “I tried to say what I thought.”

But Haley’s progressive thinking had eventually caught up with the times. It took a change of course in America’s history, but sooner or later his egalitarian views and advocacy for human rights were recognized for what they were: the vision and the kindness of a man for whom fellow humans mattered more than dollars.

Tacoma has called him a hometown hero; the state Legislature adopted a resolution in 2000 honoring him for his public service; and multiple certificates of recognition and plaque line the Haley museum walls.

At press time, Fred Haley was ready to receive on Jan. 28 a lifetime achievement award from the University of Washington and the Business Examiner Group, recognizing his contribution to business and public service. The collection at the Haley museum continues to grow.