Remembering Their Lives' Journeys

These 30 East Bay personalities whose life paths ceased in 2019 live on in our hearts and minds.


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Photo courtesy Reyes family

As the winter of 2019 gives way to the spring of 2020, the journey of time moves inexorably forward. The changing of the seasons reminds us that every one of us has a journey of our own, too. A life’s journey might be measured in years or seasons, loves, or deeds, but it’s always over too soon. We only get one chance to make that journey, and everyone makes it count in his or her own way. Here are those whose journey has been completed but who treaded paths so singular that they can’t help but leave some of their light behind when their time with us concluded.

 

Jeff Adachi, 59.

Crusading San Francisco public defender.

Adachi first showed the boundless passion for justice that would lead him to public defense when he was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, where he joined a student movement to free a man wrongly convicted of murder. He was elected to be San Francisco public defender in 2002. He spent the next 15 years turning the office into one of the nation’s top models of holistic defense, instituting innovative programs like a full-service juvenile division and a unit serving undocumented immigrants. A vocal and tireless advocate for the disadvantaged, Adachi was a controversial figure whose fiery personality and plainspoken ethos ruffled feathers but made him a hero to his clients.

 

Joyce Aguiar, 87.

Devoted volunteer.

Aguiar grew up Alameda — she was always fiercely proud of her first job as an usher at the Alameda Theater — but moved to Lodi when she got married. She returned to Alameda later in life and immediately made the city her home, rekindling old connections and becoming a fixture in the community life of St. Joseph’s Basilica. Aguiar lived to help others and was known for her giving and generous nature, as evidenced by her years of volunteer work for the Mastick Senior Center and with Meals on Wheels.

 

Gary Bogue, 81.

Animal columnist and advocate.

Bogue wrote regular columns for over 40 years in the Contra Costa Times answering readers’ questions about pets and local wildlife. His humble, friendly tone and deep knowledge of animal behavior endeared him to readers and earned him the nickname “the Ann Landers of California Wildlife.” He worked tirelessly to educate the public about the animals living alongside them as curator of the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek and used his platform to help environmental groups and preserve open space in the Bay Area.

 

Willie Brown, 78.

Legendary Raiders cornerback and Football Hall of Fame inductee.

Brown played 12 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, building a reputation as one of the team’s all-time greats. He accompanied the Raiders to two Super Bowls, and many today remember him mostly for creating one of the game’s most iconic images, when cameras caught his 75-yard interception return in Super Bowl XI head-on. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1984. Off the field, Brown also proved himself as a capable coach known for his humble wit and hard-won wisdom.

 

Rev. Jack Buckley, 78.

A Man of Faith and Friendship

Jack Buckley served as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Alameda for 19 years. During his tenure, he oversaw the restoration of the church’s sanctuary to its former glory and worked to get the building listed on the National Registry of Historic Places after its 2003 centennial. But Buckley knew that the building was merely the vessel; the true heart of the church was its congregation. His true joy was always the nourishment of the soul, and his sermons, delivered with gentle wit and human warmth, helped usher new life into the church. Under his stewardship, church membership swelled and pews filled.

As a youth, he had little interest in spiritual affairs. He once described himself in his teen years, with characteristic humor, as someone who went to church on Sunday but spent the rest of the week trying to emulate James Dean, a rebel without a cause.  That changed as he graduated high school; he caught a chance television broadcast of Billy Graham that led him to his faith. He went on to attend a Christian college, where he met his future wife, and then seminary in St. Louis.

He began his work for the faith community of the East Bay long before he took stewardship of Alameda’s First Presbyterian. He moved with his new family to Berkeley in 1971. Buckley did not discriminate in his associates, holding true to his belief that every person was a friend worthy of regard and of God’s love. He worked closely with Berkeley’s counterculture and Jesus Freaks. He went on to found and lead Covenant Circle, help start Fellowship of His People house church and Berkeley Christian School, and become a leading voice in many local Christian groups. In 1983, he began directing mission and ministries for the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley.

Buckley was a man whose public face reflected his private life, a man who brought his abiding trust in God’s love to bear on everyday life and shared his faith with those he met through simple acts of devotion. He remained deeply involved in community affairs beyond his 2012 retirement, not just through the church but also in the wider city as well through his membership in the Alameda Rotary Club and the Mariner Square Athletic Club.

 

Phillippa Daniella Caldeira, 50.

Devoted librarian.

Caldeira grew up with a deep love for books and reading; as a child, her favorite place to visit was the Berkeley Library. As an adult, her love for the written word never diminished. She worked at the same library she used to visit as a child while she studied as an undergrad at UC Berkeley, then went on to earn a master’s degree in library science at San Jose State. In 2012, she became a reference and instruction librarian at Laney College in Oakland. Nothing brought Caldeira more joy than to see others experience the same love for the library that she felt; students and professors alike could count on her deep expertise, and she made it her personal mission to see that every person who walked through the library doors found exactly what they needed.

 

William Barclay Caldeira, aka 300, 51.

Berkeley homeless advocate.

A tireless crusader for justice, Caldeira has long been one of the loudest voices advocating for Berkeley’s homeless. He fearlessly spoke truth to power, standing his ground as he pleaded on behalf of the city’s homeless at Berkeley City Council meetings and as a member of the city’s Homeless Commission in 2017. His stubbornness, but also his kindness and his wit, helped him to rally people from all walks of life to the cause. Outside of his activism, Caldeira was also a voracious reader with boundless intellectual curiosity — he spent hours at the Berkeley Library devouring books — and an avid gardener who enjoyed beautifying the gardens of the city’s public spaces.

 

Bruce Cox, 64.

Oakland youth mentor.

 

Galvanized by news reports about the high numbers of incarcerated black youth, Cox began offering training to ex-offenders and at-risk youth in the construction trades at his West Oakland warehouse. His involvement went beyond teacher, though, with Cox becoming a mentor, an advocate, and a friend for all his protégés. He worked tirelessly to connect his students with jobs, encouraged developers to hire Oakland workers, and always provided a sympathetic ear to those who needed it. Cox became a father figure to hundreds of young men who passed through his training programs who today remember him for his patience, positivity, and generous spirit.

 

Michael Diehl, 64.

Voice for the downtrodden.

Diehl possessed a great spirit of boundless generosity, driven by a profound belief that no one is beneath regard. He was nicknamed “the Mayor of Berkeley Streets” because he was always in the thick of it, never afraid to get involved in issues that would affect the city’s poor or homeless. He worked as a peer counselor for the Berkeley Free Clinic, served on the city’s mental health commission, and served on the editorial advisory board for Street Spirit. Diehl disliked hierarchy and conformity and was often considered a rebel in a world where humanity takes a backseat to order.

 

Anthony Donato, 89.

Visionary Pittsburg city manager.

In the ’50s, the post-war city of Pittsburg was in a slump. It would take a special kind of stubborn to revitalize the city, and Anthony Donato was just the man for the job. His brusque manner and anything-to-get-a-job-done attitude were controversial, but today Donato is credited by many for revitalizing the city’s blighted areas during his nearly 30 years as city manager. He oversaw dramatic redevelopment during his tenure, including City Hall, Buckley Square, and the Pittsburg Center BART Station, but eschewed recognition for his efforts; he thought of it all as just part of his job.

 

Patti Heimburger, 75.

Alameda artist and philanthropist.

Heimburger moved to the Bay Area to pursue her lifelong dream of being an artist. She was a valued, beloved member of the artistic communities of Alameda an Oakland, showcasing her unique mixed-media oil paintings in galleries through the two cities. Heimburger is remembered as much for her art as for her philanthropy, serving as president of the Alameda chapter of the American Association of University Women and giving her time freely to the Oakland Symphony, Alameda Hospital Foundation, Altarena Playhouse, Friends of the Alameda Library, and many educational and environmental organizations.

 

Neil Karpe, 23.

Meticulous Engineer Who Loved Adventure

Neil Karpe is remembered as a cheerful man always ready with a kind word and a friendly gesture. He studied mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, impressing professors and fellow students with his easy mastery and curious mind; colleagues agreed that he had a bright future ahead of him. That future was tragically cut short in a mountaineering accident; Karpe died this year in a fall while scaling Mount Sill in the Sierra Nevada, one of California’s highest.

Karpe had transferred to UC Berkeley from community college and majored in mechanical engineering with a minor in physics. After he graduated in 2017, he went on to work at SuitX, a bionics startup that creates robotic exoskeletons to help people with mobility disorders.

Karpe succeeded through both natural aptitude and hard work. He had an analytical mind perfectly suited for unraveling the problems faced by an engineer — friends and co-workers were equally impressed by his ability to not just understand complicated software problems but also to break them down to make them comprehensible to laymen. He possessed an expert’s skill with none of the ego. He understood the value of teamwork in the lab, and he freely shared his own knowledge while encouraging others to do their best, combining the best qualities of a mentor and a friend. 

But Karpe had an adventurous side that came to light when he was outside the engineering lab. His passion was mountain climbing and he constantly dreamed of beating his old mountaineering records by scaling to greater heights. His dream was to conquer peaks all over the world, planning to someday ascend the slops of mountains in Patagonia, the Swiss Alps, and the Himalayas. As he became serious about pursuing his dream, he planned to get tattoos to represent the summits he reached. Mount Sill would have been his first tattoo.

 

Joe Knowland, 88.

Oakland Tribune Publisher With a Sense of Fun

Joe Knowland’s destiny seemed set in stone from a young age. His family had owned the Oakland Tribune for nearly the entirety of the 20th century, and it was expected that Knowland would succeed his father, U.S. Senator William F. Knowland, as the newspaper’s editor and publisher. Knowland took up that mantle on his father’s death in 1973, but he always fancied himself more an actor than a newspaper man. When the Knowland family sold the paper in 1977, Knowland struck out to pursue his other interests. Though his tenure as publisher was brief, he still left a lasting mark on the culture and style of the Tribune.

He spent his youth in the family business, learning the ropes as a reporter in Oakland, but he always did everything with the unmistakable dramatic flair of an actor. As publisher, Knowland courted a younger, hipper audience for the paper and turned his devilish sense of fun to drumming up publicity with wild stunts. To celebrate the Tribune’s 100th anniversary, Knowland hired a magician to dangle from the landmark Tribune Tower in Oakland, imitating a similar feat performed by Harry Houdini in downtown Oakland in 1915, when the Knowland family first bought the newspaper.

But Knowland’s penchant for wacky stunts and sometimes reputation as a dilettante belied a deep commitment to the principles of journalism and the importance of a free press. When in 1974 the Symbionese Liberation Army demanded that the fledgling editor print its manifestos verbatim in his newspaper, he took a stand in defense of the Tribune’s editorial independence and refused. The California Press Association honored Knowland as “Publisher of the Year” after only a year on the job.

After the sale of the Tribune in 1977, he pursued his love of acting. His most famous role came in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as an antiques store dealer, but locals may better remember him as the grizzled old sea captain in the San Francisco — Great Adventure short film that ran at the theater at San Francisco’s Pier 39.

As an actor, he served on the San Francisco Board of the Screen Actors Guild, but Knowland’s community involvement wasn’t limited to theatrical pursuits. He also served on the boards of the Oakland Coliseum, Mills College, and the then-California College of Arts & Crafts. He and his wife co-chaired the fundraising campaign restore Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. Friends and Tribune staffers remember him as a man who could be serious when the situation called for it but who preferred to live life with a sense of joy and whimsy.

 

Rev. James “Father Jay” Matthews, 70.

Beloved Oakland Cathedral rector.

In 1974, Matthews began his life of service as the first African-African priest to be ordained in Northern California. For 44 years, he served the Oakland Catholic family as a mentor, a confidante, a caretaker, and a friend, as much a community member as a leader. He worked as the chaplain for the Oakland police and fire departments and a vicar for Black Catholics group; he served for over 25 years as pastor at St. Benedict’s Church in East Oakland and become rector at Christ the Light in 2015. His devotion to his faith and to his community was a beacon of hope in a world where light often seems in short supply.

 

Richard Mazzera, 62.

Enterprising restaurateur.

Prior to making his name as the savvy manager who streamlined business operations at Chez Panisse, Mazzera already had a long history and sterling reputation in the restaurant industry: He had previously worked at La Toque in Los Angeles and at Victoria Station in Oakland. After working with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse for 12 years, he struck out on his own, opening his own tapas bar, César, in 1998 and a second location in Oakland in 2006. Friends remember him not just for his business acumen but also for his easy sense of humor and genuine warmth for people.

 

Eddie Money, 70.

Rock star.

Money came from a working class family in New York and he brought that hardscrabble ethos to his art after he moved to Berkeley in 1968 to pursue his dreams of a career in music. He started as a regular performer in the Bay Area club scene before achieving global fame as a hard rock singer and songwriter in the ’80s. Known for his gritty voice and his natural knack for bombastic power love ballads that hit you in the gut as well as the heart, Money had 11 Top 40 hits over his career, including perennial favorites “Baby Hold On,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” and “Two Tickets to Paradise.”

 

Brandon Moore, 31.

Berkeley viral video comedian.

Moore, also known as Young Busco, found accidental fame in 2015 when he pointed his camera at the black shoes of a police officer at the Ashby BART station and asked, “What are those?!” sparking a meme that still circulates online to this day. Friends weren’t surprised by Moore’s sudden comedy stardom, describing him as a naturally funny person who loved to make people laugh. Before his death, Moore had recently completed his first ever stand-up comedy performance to critical and audience acclaim.

 

Kary Mullis, 74.

Nobel-winning biochemist and UC Berkeley graduate.

A controversial figure known for his flamboyant personality, esoteric personal faith in astrology and LSD use, and occasional forays into crackpot schemes (he once founded a company dedicated to selling jewelry embedded with celebrity DNA), his contributions to science were nevertheless undeniable. Mullis developed polymerase chain reaction, still one of the most widely used methods to make copies of DNA sequences, while working for Cetus Corp in Emeryville. The discovery revolutionized molecular biology and netted Mullis the 1993 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

 

Arlen Ness, 79.

Visionary motorcycle artist.

Ness had a lifelong love affair for cycles, and that love showed through in his work: Arlen created custom designed motorcycles with such wild flair that every motorcycle that left his Dublin dealership was a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. His colorful designs were instantly recognizable on the street and delighted cyclists and collectors alike, earning him the title “King of the Custom Motorcycles.” His very first motorcycle, a Harley Davidson that Ness rebuilt and repainted himself, ended up on display at the Oakland Museum of California History.

 

Joe Overstreet, 85.

Trailblazing artist in the Black Arts Movement.

Overstreet grew up in the East Bay and studied art at Contra Costa College and the San Francisco Art Institute before becoming a fixture of the Bay beat scene. Because Overstreet had lived through the tumultuous civil rights era, Overstreet’s art took on a fiercely political dimension, drawing inspirations from African, Islamic, and Asian design to comment on African Americans’ struggle for equality and the painful legacy of slavery. He pioneered the idea that paintings didn’t have to hang on walls, instead suspending his work from ceilings or in the air with strings, a simple innovation that forced audiences to engage with art in a whole new way.

 

Alicia Morales Ramirez, 94.

Dedicated community volunteer.

A longtime Brentwood resident, Ramirez believed deeply in her community and made it her mission to welcome strangers as friends. She worked as an instructional aide for the Brentwood Union School District for nearly 30 years, where she helped Mexican immigrant families enroll in schools and volunteered as a Spanish translator in the community during her spare time. Always looking for ways to give back, she was active in religious and civic organizations to improve the lives of her neighbors and their children.

 

Benjamin P. Reyes Sr., 79.

A Life of Service to Country and Community

Benjamin Reyes dedicated his life to service not just to family but also to country. He joined the United States Navy in 1960, embarking on a journey that took him to all seven continents over the course of a 30-year career at sea. His navy assignments delivered him to some of the most turbulent places on Earth: His ship was deployed to Cuba during the tense standoff of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he also served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War. He was aboard the USS New Orleans when it was dispatched to the South Pacific to assist with the recovery of the Apollo 14 capsule after splashdown. A diligent and dedicated shipman who was highly decorated for his conscientious service, Reyes retired with the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer.

Reyes’ devotion to his country was matched by his love for his family. Born in Manila, Philippines, Reyes married his high school sweetheart, and together they raised four children during the 55 years they were together. The family lived in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, during Reyes’ naval years, but moved to Alameda following his retirement.

Reyes was known for his boundless generosity, distinguishing himself as a man willing to give selflessly of his time and energy to good causes, always ready with a kind word and an easy smile. Even after retirement, Reyes dedicated himself to service. He served in the Knights of Columbus and on the Parish Council of Alameda’s St. Barnabas Church. Reyes also served as a board member of the United Filipinos of Alameda Inc. and the NorCal San Antonians Inc. He lived to see his son, Benjamin T. Reyes II, become the first Filipino-American Superior Court Judge for Contra Costa County and the second in Bay Area history. Reyes was honored by the state of California as the Veteran of the Year for 2018 in Assembly District 18, and the city of Alameda declared Oct. 15, 2019, to be “Benjamin P. Reyes Day” in recognition of his 40 years of community service.

 

Anthony “Tony” Santos, 86.

Former San Leandro mayor.

Santos served two terms as a San Leandro city council member, for a total of 14 years, before being elected mayor in 2006; he left politics as the city’s second longest-serving elected official. He worked tirelessly during his tenure to improve the quality of life for city residents. Most notably, Santos recognized that decades of restrictive real estate covenants had segregated his city. He smashed the power of racist home owners groups, diversified the city staff, and worked closely with the city’s growing Asian-American population to remedy this. He played a major role in founding city institutions like Grover Cleveland Park, the Senior Community Center, and the Kaiser Permanente hospital.

 

Jerome “Jay” Singer, 97.

Beloved UC Berkeley professor emeritus and MRI pioneer.

For the 25 years that Singer taught biophysics and electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, his students loved him for his passion and good humor. But the world knows him best for his work in developing magnetic resonance imaging. His research was instrumental in creating modern MRI technology to the point that every system in use today is based on his original ideas. With his grad student collaborators, Singer held over 20 patents, including two for MRI technology. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2003.

 

Ed Stokes, 96.

Diablo Foods founder.

Stokes started Diablo Foods as a single Lafayette store over 50 years ago, gradually building the grocery into a powerful brand and an East Bay institution with four locations throughout the region. Stokes embodied a lost ethos of generosity, believing that his business success carried with it a civic obligation. More than just a businessman, he was a deeply committed community member who always looked for ways to give back to his home city and to his neighbors. His served as president of Lafayette’s Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club. and the Town Hall Theatre. He was Lafayette’s “Citizen of the Year” in 2012, the same year he was recognized as “Businessperson of the Year.” He also was named the honorary mayor of Lafayette for his civic contributions.

 

Jacqueline Taber, 96.

Pioneering Alameda judge.

Taber’s high school guidance counselor advised her to become a legal secretary, saying that only men could be lawyers; the double standard fired her resolve to prove that a woman could succeed in the then male-dominated legal profession. After graduating from UC Berkeley undergrad and law school, she became the second female judge in Alameda County and the first to take a permanent seat on the Oakland-Piedmont municipal court. Taber fought against sexism and misogyny in all its guises her whole life, spearheading a 1977 investigation into inhumane treatment of female inmates in county jails and pushing for the hiring of more female deputies.

 

Ellen Tauscher, 67.

Former California representative.

Tauscher entered politics as a centrist Democrat in 1997, winning a tough race to represent California’s 10th congressional district and holding that position despite fierce Republican opposition until her resignation in 2009. She is remembered as a keen political mind and a moderate voice that helped to find common ground between opposing factions of the Democratic Party during her seven terms in Congress, skills that served her well as leader of the 60-member House New Democrat Coalition. Her aptitude for negotiations and diplomacy led her to success in her second career after leaving Congress for the U.S. State Department.

 

Marilyn Tucker, 89.

Longtime San Francisco Chronicle dance and music reviewer.

Tucker’s first love was music — she grew up listening to her mother’s opera records and originally considered a career as a mezzo-soprano — but later discovered a talent for writing that prompted her to begin contributing music reviews to the Oakland Tribune; she joined the San Francisco Chronicle as a staff writer in 1964. She possessed an acerbic wit and was merciless in lambasting poor performances but much preferred to be a champion of art than a critic. Her reviews showed a deep empathy for the life of the artist, defending deserving talents and bolstering up-and-coming voices.

 

Julia “The Bubble Lady” Vinograd, 75.

A poet for the people.

Julia Vinograd was a Telegraph Avenue fixture, one of many colorful characters who emerged from Berkeley’s ’60s counterculture. Vinograd herself, though, never lost the spark of curiosity or the grandeur of spirit that gave life to the hippie movement, and she felt a deep kinship with the misfits and drifters who passed through the city looking for something greater than themselves. Vinograd was widely known for her colorful outfits and pleasant demeanor, though her most distinctive trait was her habit of waving a bubble wand as she made her daily walk through the city.  A gentle soul, she saw her bubbles as a message of peace, a calming influence in a turbulent world. 

Vinograd saw Berkeley history as it happened, being present for the student uprisings and the People’s Park Protests of 1969. It was then that Vinograd was inspired to turn to bubbles as a form of peaceful resistance; she spent the night blowing bubbles in the park. Afterward, she was known to locals as “The Bubble Lady,” and her bubble wand became her signature. While she embraced her new identity, she was more than another Telegraph eccentric. She was a street poet who captured the zeitgeist of the times in her words, giving voice to the people whom she called friends and neighbors but whom society might disregard.

Vinograd was a lifelong Berkeleyite who left the city briefly to pursue her master’s at the University of Iowa but returned in 1967. After that, she lived her life on Telegraph, in residential hotels along the artery from which she could watch history unfold. She found her voice as a chronicler of the city’s most colorful years, as her empathy for her fellow human beings made the poetry flow out of her like a river. She penned 50 volumes of poetry, many about the city of Berkeley and its denizens. In 2004, the city recognized her as its unofficial poet laureate. She was a unique soul who found her place among the dreamers and drifters of a bygone area and never lost sight of what made that time and place precious.

 

Barbara Kay Werner, 72.

Diverse renaissance artist.

Werner had a lifelong passion for art in all its forms, a love that she parlayed into a career. She worked for UC Berkeley’s athletic department as a graphic artist making displays for its Hall of Fame.  A member of the Alvarado Road Artists Group, she worked from her Berkeley studio to create pottery, stationery, and silkscreens, but she was most known for her ornate hand-painted salad bowls. Devoted to her Catholic faith, Werner worked selflessly with charitable and religious organizations associated with multiple parishes in the Bay Area, as well as UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, St. Jude’s, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

 

Photo Credits Page 25: Buckley courtesy family, Adachi courtesy Jeff Adachi staff, Aguilar courtesy family, Bogue courtesy Lindsay Wildlife Experience. Page 26: Karpe courtesy Connie Yu, Brown courtesy Raiders, P. Caldeira courtesy California Community Colleges, Diehl courtesy Kim Beavers. Page 27: Knowland courtesy family, Heimberger from Facebook, Matthews courtesy SVDP, Mazzera courtesy family, Money by Kevin Foley Creative Commons, Moore from Instagram, Mullis by Eric Charlton Creative Commons. Page 28: Reyes courtesy family, Ness courtesy Will Arlen Ness, Overstreet courtesy family, Ramirez courtesy family, Santos courtesy San Leandro City Council, Singer courtesy UC Berkeley, Stokes courtesy family. Page 29: Vinograd East Bay Express file photo, Taber from Legacy.com, Tauscher courtesy U.S. Congress, Werner courtesy family.

 

 

 

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