East Bay Residents Who Touched Our Lives
Teachers and leaders, scientists and artists, natives and transplants, these people left the East Bay poorer for their passing but a richer place for the memories, the works, and the legacies they left behind. We bid farewell to the friends and heroes we lost this year and remember the ways that they touched our lives.
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Kitty Cone, 70. Organized Longest Sit-in for Disability Rights. Since moving to Berkeley in the early ’70s, Kitty Cone was a forceful and tireless crusader for equal rights and treatment for people with disabilities. Cone, who had muscular dystrophy and was confined to a wheelchair, was a longtime Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund staffer, board member, and director of development. She also worked with Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living and the World Institute on Disability.
Four years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—the first federal law guaranteeing equal rights to disabled people—U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano refused to sign regulations defining what constituted a disability. Cone helped organize a sit-in at the department’s San Francisco office, an action that would become the longest sit-in at a federal office in U.S. history, lasting 28 days. Under pressure, Califano eventually capitulated and signed the regulations.
Besides her work on behalf of disability rights, Cone was strongly cognizant of other injustices as well. While a student at the University of Illinois in the 1960s, she campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, the war in Vietnam, and racial discrimination in her own town of Champaign, Ill. In the early 1980s, Cone adopted her son, Jorge, from Mexico after being designated as an “unfit candidate” by U.S. adoption agencies for being a disabled wheelchair user.
William “Bill” McMahon McCall, 101. Former Alameda City Councilman and Mayor. McMahon McCall joined the Alameda City Council in 1953 and served as mayor for three terms between 1957 and 1969, but he held dozens of key positions in city and community affairs through the years. Among other positions, he served as president of the Mayors and Councilmen’s Department, League of California Cities; president of Alameda County Mayors’ Conference; and president of Alameda’s Public Utilities Board.
Kitty McLean, 86. Longtime Berkeley Activist. A fixture in the Bay Area progressive scene, McLean was a perennial volunteer who could always be counted upon to lend her aid to any good cause. Among other groups, McLean volunteered for the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, and Citizens for East Shore Parks.
Emilio Nevarez, 26. Bass Player and Vocalist for The Lucky Eejits. A music lover from an early age, Berkeley resident Nevarez began his musical career with a youth orchestra, but surprised his family with his affinity for punk and heavy metal. Nevarez is remembered as a friendly and outgoing man deeply loyal to friends and family.
Dominic “The Jacka” Newton, 37. Oakland Hip-Hop Artist. Since his first break with Pittsburg-based Mob Figaz in 1999, Newton never forgot his roots growing up poor. A popular and respected figure in Oakland’s underground rap scene known for his hard-hitting rhymes that inspired the oppressed and down-trodden, Newton was also an active mentor for disadvantaged youth, freely giving his time to local community causes in Oakland and Richmond.
Susan O’Malley, 38. Artist and Curator. A witty and vibrant force for East Bay art, O’Malley was an artist-in-residence at Montalvo Arts Center and worked more recently out of a studio in Berkeley. Her work was most at home out in public, where she liked to use art to inspire and encourage people in their everyday lives. Her art, simple and colorful, was designed to give “pep talks” to the community.
Whitney Reed, 82. Tennis Champion. A consummate performer, Alameda’s Reed was known in his day for his athletic prowess on the tennis court and his hard-partying lifestyle off the court. He was the nation’s top amateur tennis player in 1961 and in the top 10 four times between 1959 and 1962. He won the 1959 NCAA Intercollegiate singles championship while at San Jose State University. Reed was eventually inducted into the San Jose State University and USTA Northern California Halls of Fame.
Heiko Schrepel, 39. Bay Area Punk Musician. A mainstay of the East Bay punk scene, Schrepel was known for his musical versatility and his bigger-than-life persona. Schrepel’s dedication to the punk aesthetic was complete, and he loved sharing his deep knowledge of the genre’s history and heroes. He performed with bands like One Man Army, The Revolts, and Duane Peters’ US Bombs.
Michele Serros, 48. Poet, Comedian, and Social Commentator. A Berkeley transplant, Serros used wit and whimsy to communicate her experiences as a Mexican-American girl growing up in Southern California. Her first book of poetry was published while she was still a student at Santa Monica City College. In 1994, she was one of 12 poets selected to travel nationally with traveling music festival Lollapalooza. She later went on to write for comedian George Lopez’s television series as well as a series of young adult novels.
Ken Stabler, 69. Oakland Raiders Quarterback. Nicknamed “The Snake” for scoring a touchdown after taking a winding, circuitous run across the field, Stabler played for the Oakland Raiders throughout the ’70s before stints with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. Always calm under pressure, Stabler gained notoriety for his highly accurate passes and throws. Recently, he was selected as a finalist for inclusion in the Football Hall of Fame.
Neilsen Tam, 69. Teacher and Alameda Unified School District Trustee. Tam originally worked as a teacher and administrator with the Alameda district for more than 30 years, including as principal at Washington Elementary School. He ran for school board in hopes he could make Alameda education better serve students and help build bridges between school officials and the community. In 2010, he and two other school board members faced backlash after they voted to approve lessons to fight anti-gay bullying in Alameda schools.