HOTSEAT- Lead role: Carole Thorpe stars in Tea Party
After years in theater, Carole Thorpe has taken many roles, but perhaps her biggest began on Tax Day 2009, when she carried a sign that read, "Greed, arrogance, ineptitude are bipartisan offenses."
That April 15, Thorpe had no plan to become the chair of the Jefferson Area Tea Party within 11 months. She'd never even been to a protest before. Yet something sparked that day.
"You're always hearing what a liberal town Charlottesville is," says Thorpe. "I was surprised that many people showed up."
Thorpe says she already was disillusioned with government during the second term of President George Bush. "I didn't like the Patriot Act and didn't like the spending," she says.
Ironically, conservative icon Ronald Reagan and his student loan spending cuts cut short Thorpe's college education. "Life happens," muses Thorpe. "I can name one or two things that were disappointing or defining, but everyone has something."
She's remarkably upbeat–- and philosophical about life. "Tough is my son's autism," she says. "I don't sweat the small stuff."
Her son is 13 and Thorpe raves about the programs available through Albemarle County schools. She and her husband, an engineer at Northrop Grumman, plan to have their son living in a group home with some sort of low-skill job by the time post-high school programs end when he's 22 . She urges parents to trust their instincts about how their child is developing. "No one gives you a handbook," Thorpe says.
Before the Tea Party, Thorpe also kept busy as one of the founders of Play On theater, which provided an outlet for her passion. "I like Golden Age musicals from the late '50s to early '70s," she says.
Her theater background comes in very handy as the leader of the local Tea Partiers. She's articulate, she's organized, and "I'm used to standing in front of audiences," she explains.
But with her new duties as head of a group that could tilt the balance of power in the U.S. Congress in November, something had to give, so musicals took a hiatus. But not all music.
On a recent Monday night, Thorpe can be found belting out hits during karaoke night at Applebee's restaurant.
"I haven't repeated a song," Thorpe says between performances. "I've sung 286 different songs."
Thorpe tells a reporter watching the spectacle just off Route 29 that she keeps songlists of what she's already sung and what she might want to sing. Did we mention that she's organized? Back to the point, Thorpe is eager to debunk misperceptions about the Tea Party movement.
"The fact that people say it's full of racists–- that's crazy," she declares. "And that it's violent."
One other thing she says is not true: "That this is a manufactured arm of the Republican party."
While Thorpe says she's always voted, she's learned a lot over the past year about politics and how it works. "I've always been the benefit-of-the-doubt girl," she says. "I don't do that as much now. I do feel a loss of innocence in that. I never felt I had to be a watchdog."
Even if her stint as Tea Party chair is short-lived, she knows she can't go back to the days when the extent of her political activity was going to the polls. "I feel the next generation deserves the opportunities we had because those can be taken away," she says.
And if you don't like your choices on the ballot, advises Thorpe, "Then you need to get involved in the process earlier."
Why here? My husband was hired by Northrop Grumman/Sperry Marine in 1995.
What's worst about living here? No Olive Garden restaurant.
Favorite hangout? Karaoke night at Applebee's or Baja Norte.
Most overrated virtue? Honestly, there are none.
People would be surprised to know? As a child, I had a degenerative hip disease and needed a full leg brace and crutches for five years. I taught myself to walk again at age 12, and eventually worked up to performing choreography in musicals.
What would you change about yourself? Only superficial physical things. I like who I am.
Proudest accomplishment? Teaming with my husband to cope with our son's autism and create the best life for him that we can.
Whom do you admire? Anyone who acts with courage of their convictions–- whether I agree with them or not.
People find most annoying about you: My unbending will to do what I think is fair and right.
Favorite book? Any well-written biography.
Subject that causes you to rant? Well, if you must get a Tea Party leader started...let's begin with the unlimited growth and tyrannical overreach of our Federal government crushing individual liberty.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The New York Giants beating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII (I'm a native New Yorker and lifelong Giants fan).
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The effort of President Obama and his administration with A.C.O.R.N., S.E.I.U., the Apollo Alliance, and the Tides Foundation to fundamentally transform the United States of America.
What do you drive? 2003 Ford Windstar van.
In your car CD player right now: A compilation of classic Vegas-era favorites by Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Bobby Darin, Keely Smith, and more.
Next journey: An August excursion to Tweetsie Railroad in North Carolina for my son.
Most trouble you've gotten in? Nothing interesting enough to report, trust me.
Regret: In 1992, my best friend with whom for seven years I resided, worked jobs, and performed in theatre, died tragically at age 29. Steve was the nephew of the late actress Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls) and she generously flew him to the West Coast to put him into hospice once he could no longer care for himself. By this time, I was married and living in another state–- neither living close enough to care for him, nor able to be with him when he eventually passed away. I regret that circumstances kept us apart at the end of his life and I still miss him to this day.
Favorite comfort food: Chocolate anything.
Always in your refrigerator: Dairy staples and Coke Zero.
Must-see TV: Every New York Giants football game.
Describe a perfect day: One without the omnipresent, 13-year-long soundtrack of Barney and Blue's Clues in my home (there should be a special place in Heaven for such parents!).
Walter Mitty fantasy: To play the lead in a musical on Broadway.
Who'd play you in the movie? Probably me. I'm an experienced actress and no woman in Hollywood has my figure!
Most embarrassing moment? ...will go with me to my grave.
Best advice you ever got? If you spend your life trying to make everyone happy, you will make no one happy... least of all yourself.
Favorite bumper sticker? One that will come off my car cleanly.