‘60s Radical Puts Past Behind Him
As the nation watched in late 1969 and early 1970, John Froines and his co-defendants turned the Chicago 7 trial into a theater of the absurd protesting the U.S. political system.
But that was then; this is now.
The chemist, recently named director of UCLA’s Occupational Health Center, wants to know why reporters can’t ask about his public health career from 1974 to the present. Why do they focus on his radical past?
“People are always saying, ‘Is John Froines the same radical he was in 1968?’ The problem with those questions is that they do not look at how the society changes, how people change and how circumstances change.
“No one is the same now as then,” Froines said. “I think it’s more valuable to look at a person’s history--to see if they have been consistent within the context of their values. We still need student protesters because many of the problems of the ‘60s continue and new issues have emerged. But nobody’s a student activist at 50. You’d have to have your head examined.”
Froines no longer lives like a student activist. He resides with his second wife, KCBS producer Andrea Hricko, and their 6-year-old son in a Spanish-style Santa Monica home that they recently enlarged. Natural light bounces off shiny wooden floors everywhere.
At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the graying researcher with wire-rim glasses looks as if he could have been a college running back. He dressed casually for an interview in a plaid sport shirt open at the collar, a blue V-neck sweater and green cotton pants. He slouched with his hands in his pockets or touched his cheek to ponder questions.
“Vietnam was a cataclysmic event in American history,” Froines said. “It brought hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people together in opposition to war. I don’t think those circumstances exist now.
“I think it’s (not important to) . . . worry about (whether) a demonstration in 1989 was like 1969 because they are not the same eras.”
Today Froines resembles not so much a revolutionary as a man surrounded by comforts and immersed in middle-class pursuits. He skis, runs marathons, dotes on his son and works 60 hours a week.
“I’m a 50-year-old father of a 6-year-old,” he said. “My son and I spend a lot of time together. I do not like to travel as much. I basically work, spend time with my boy and do physical things outside.”
And, unlike some ‘60s-era activists, he also works comfortably with corporate giants.
As head of the occupational health division of the Vermont Health Department from 1974 to 1977, he helped persuade the state’s nuclear power industry to accept health standards tougher than federal regulations.
As director of a division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington from 1977 to 1979, he was principal author of federal standards regulating workers’ exposure to lead and cotton dust.
He was named deputy director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Rockville, Md., in 1979 and joined UCLA as an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in 1981.
As a professor, Froines conducted a study to determine which Southern California jobs and industries had the highest exposure to 500 separate chemicals.
As the newly named head of the UCLA’s Occupational Health Center he is overseeing another study to determine how some industrial chemicals cause early aging of the brain and how others interact with DNA to trigger the first stages of cancer.
“In our view, John Froines is one of the most meticulous scientists in the area of environmental toxicology,” said Dick Davis, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of California. The trade organization’s members include Dow Chemical, the subject of Vietnam era anti-war demonstrations for producing napalm, as well as Exxon Corp. and Du Pont.
Froines makes no apologies for being highly regarded within the industry.
“I think they think I am scientifically honest, and I try to be,” he said. “To have a high degree of scientific integrity is important to me.
“I will not come down along ideological lines. I will clearly be seen as a worker advocate in occupational health, but will interpret science objectively, and I think that improves things for workers.”
Froines says he became devoted to scientific objectivity while earning a B.S. in chemistry at his hometown university, UC Berkeley, in 1963 and a Ph.D. at Yale in 1967.
It was at Yale that Froines joined Students for a Democratic Society and began organizing poor whites and blacks in the Hill section of New Haven.
He met fellow organizers Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger and Tom Hayden, now a Democratic California assemblyman from Santa Monica. Froines did not know the other Chicago 7 defendants--Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner--until he went to Chicago to help organize street demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Eight defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite violence and crossing state lines to incite violence at the convention. Six weeks through the trial, Judge Julius J. Hoffman declared a mistrial in Seale’s case, sentencing him to four years in prison for contempt of court and reducing the eight defendants to seven.
At the trial Froines laughed at a witness’s answer and called it “stupid.” He also refused two of Judge Hoffman’s orders to rise and later defied the jurist’s instructions by telling jurors that after they had left the room, fellow defendant Seale had been sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court.
Froines’ antics were comparatively mild. Other defendants often put their booted feet on black leather chairs and sometimes wore black judicial robes, took them off and stomped on them. Rubin marched in front of Hoffman’s bench shouting “Heil Hitler” and Dellinger shouted “You’re a liar, Judge Hoffman.”
Despite these actions, a jury acquitted all seven defendants of conspiracy to incite violence. Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Rubin were found guilty of crossing state lines with intent to riot, but those convictions and Seale’s contempt citation were overturned on appeal. The defendants and their attorneys were also cited nearly 200 times for contempt of court, but all but 15 of the citations, including all against Froines, were dismissed.
Shortly after his acquittal Froines entered public health work and in following years other Chicago 7 defendants pursued mainstream careers.
Today, Rubin’s New York company produces posh nightclub parties for yuppies, while former Black Panther Seale recently published a barbecue cookbook and works in minority recruitment at Temple University.
Weiner works with direct mail and membership development at the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith in New York, while Davis is president of a Denver think tank that develops technologies for the environment. Lifelong activist Dellinger resides in Peacham, Vt., and has protested U.S. involvement in Nicaragua.
Former Yippie Abbie Hoffman committed suicide last April at age 52. Hayden is the only member of the group whom Froines sees. A few Saturdays ago they watched the movie “Born on the Fourth of July.”
The further Froines gets from the trial, the more his feelings about it mellow.
Nevertheless he recalls the trial as grueling.
“It was frightening. It was absolutely emotionally draining,” Froines said.
Pressures from the trial shortened many of the defendants’ relationships with wives or girlfriends, and Froines’ first marriage was no exception. But he said he maintains good relationships with his former wife and his daughter, now 21, who live in Boston.
The researcher met his current wife when she coordinated the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley.
Hricko is prominently featured in the photos Froines keeps on the window ledge of his narrow UCLA office. In one picture his then-3-year-old daughter from his first marriage strolls through a living room in a floral print dress and tennis shoes. Behind her on the wall hangs a Richard Avedon poster of the Chicago 7 grouped around Froines.
Next to that photo are four others of his blond, curly haired son, Jonathan, sitting in his mother’s lap, holding his mother’s hand, hugging a teddy bear and looking intently at the ocean.
In Froines’ office, at least, his radical past and scholarly present come together.