Longtime Bloomfield activist Trish Comstock dies at age 92

Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Vadala
Trish Comstock, in an undated photograph, was an unstoppable force for tenant rights in Bloomfield and New Jersey in general. The longtime activist died on May 27 at age 92.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Trish Comstock, a township resident who wore a multitude of activist hats over the years, died on May 27 in a Montclair nursing facility. She was 92 years old. Always smartly dressed, the 5-foot powerhouse and longtime Davey Street resident supported numerous political causes, but her influence as president of the Bloomfield Tenants Association was most keenly felt.

Councilman Nick Joanow knew Comstock when she was a teacher’s aide at East Orange High School and he was a guidance counselor there; he said that, in his experience as a councilman years later working on a rent control ordinance, the council listened to what Comstock had to say.

“Trish spoke with honesty and sincerity for people who didn’t know how to navigate the political system,” Joanow said. “She made valid recommendations, and her impact was immeasurable.”

Others also shared memories of Comstock in the two weeks since her death. 

Bloomfield environmental activist Jane Califf said in an email that, during the 22 years that she and Comstock were friends, she admired Comstock’s dedication to helping tenants learn their rights, get fair rents and receive the repairs they needed. 

“She is a role model for not giving up on causes she supported, which included an active commitment to a world without war; for economic, social and environmental justice; as well as her support for a clean energy future without fossil fuels that are driving climate chaos,” Califf said.

Carolyn Vadala, who was a founding member of the Bloomfield Neighborhood Committee along with Comstock, said in an email that she first met Comstock on the post office steps, on tax day, circa 1990, handing out leaflets protesting Department of Defense spending.

“Thirty years my senior and dressed like she stepped out of Bergdorf’s, this petite dynamo made quite an impression that day,” Vadala said. “It was an important consciousness-raising event for me.”

Bloomfield municipal clerk Louise Palagano said Comstock, who was her long-term temporary ninth-grade English teacher at South Junior High School and inspired her to be an English literature major in college, could gather a crowd for council meetings before the internet existed.

Shirley Patricia Comstock was born Jan. 25, 1930, in Albany, N.Y., and grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., with her single mother, according to Comstock’s daughter, Joy Blackiston. Comstock did not know her father, who died when she was very young.

“Her mother had a hard time and they didn’t have a car,” Blackiston said in a telephone interview. “It was not easy.”

Comstock’s mother died when she was 16 and she was raised then by her mother’s sister, Marie, who provided for her college education at Syracuse University. She then received a master’s degree in French literature from the University of Maine.

“She got an education degree and became very enamored with everything French,” Blackiston said. “She taught high school French for many years. I asked her once, why a school in Maine, since she hated the cold. She said she only went summers.”

Blackiston said her mother was a voracious reader until poor eyesight forced her to stop. Most of the books she owned were about politics.

Comstock’s close friend, Tony Hall, said in a telephone interview that he and Comstock had similar political views.

“We marched for peace; we marched for equality. She more than I, but we participated,” he said. “It was part of our relationship.”

Hall recalled Comstock, who had been honored with a New Jersey Senate resolution for her tenant advocacy, being invited to deliver an address in Trenton.

“She was only 5 feet tall and they gave her something to stand on,” he said. “But she held her own. She invented the word feisty.” 

Comstock studied in France as a student, Hall said, and wished to return there but never did. She did, however, teach French literature at Montclair State University. 

“She self-actualized her many talents and ambitions,” Hall said. “She pursued her ambitions with great passion.”

Hall also recalled Comstock’s love of animals. She had pets all her life, giving her cats French names.

After Comstock died, Hall transported her books to a local library.

“I moved them myself,” he said. “Twenty-three boxes with 12 to 20 books in each box. She had a separate bookcase with her French books. She also enjoyed cooking and was a bit of a gourmand.” 

In Comstock’s later years, Hall provided her with two radios, because of her poor eyesight. One was tuned to WBAI and the other to WQXR. 

“The love of her life was a man named Bart,” he said, “but he died. When she’d praise him to the sky, I’d call him St. Bart, kidding her. She lost many people in her life.”