Members of the University of California community gathered at midday last week at the spreading lawn below California Hall to remember and mourn the loss of friends and colleagues during the past year.
The Sept. 21 event was the third annual Campus Memo rial Service, a campus tradition initiated during the tenure of retiring Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who introduced the occasion with quiet grace and dignity.
Noting it was his last day and last public event in office Berdahl, a consistent advocate of r einforcing a sense of campus community, said “I can think of no more fitting manner to close my tenure as chancellor.”
The audience, spilled back into the trees, formed a contemplative nucleus at the center of the University, as hundreds of students stre amed past on adjacent pathways, headed to and from class.
“I believe we become a stronger community by remembering how much these colleagues and friends have meant to us and to the life of this University,” Berdahl said. “Each one was loved by someone here who mourns their passing.”
A speaker’s podium, flanked by blue and gold wreaths, stood in front of the campus flagpole, while an adjacent pedestal bore the names of nearly 80 faculty and staff—including retirees—and students of the Berkeley campus known to have died in the past year.
Next to the pedestal, a cone of incense, placed in memory of Robert Black from Native American Studies, sent a faint wisp of smoke into the bright mid-day sun.
The memorial roll included several faculty members wi th international fame: Berkeley’s first chancellor, Clark Kerr, once the most influential figure in American higher education; Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, as well as fellow poet Thom Gunn; engineer T.Y. Lin.
A late addition to the list was legen dary Cal water polo coach Pete Cutino, who died just days before the memorial.
“To mark the passing of these giants does not diminish the service of the others,” Berdahl said, taking special note of deceased staff members.
The list included staff me mbers who had faithfully worked at Cal in non-teaching jobs as police officers, librarians, office assistants, administrators, “the fellow who ran Cal’s lost and found,” Berdahl said.
Berdahl shared a message from Professor Daniel McFadden who said “his Nobel Prize would not have happened” without the work and support of Grace Katagiri, a member of the Economics staff since the early 1970s.
Earlier this year, when she knew she was dying, Katagiri wrote to her work colleagues. “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have been associated with the Economics Department…I ask that everyone do their best to keep things going as if nothing is wrong.”
“So many of you have done just that,” Berdahl said to the audience of family members and faculty, staff, students, alumni. “This is what a community is.”
After a moment of silence, three readers came to the podium in succession to recite names. Professor Robert Knapp read those of faculty and other academic personnel, while Margo Wesley, Director of the S taff Ombuds Office, recited the list of non-academic employees.
Misha Leybovich, President of the Associated Students, read the briefest of the three lists, the names of students who had died.
“Though I’m very grateful that my participation in this is relatively short, I wish I didn’t have to say anything at all,” Leybovich quietly added.
Professor of English and former United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass talked about his friend, Nobelist Czeslaw Milosz, who died in August, and recited a Milosz poem, “And the Books.”
“I had visions of him in the 1960s freshly arrived in Berkeley after his exile” from Poland, Haas said, picturing Milosz walking down the steps of Doe Library after each foray into the literature collections.
Three Berkeley chan cellors attended the service: Berdahl; his successor Robert Birgeneau; and their 1980s predecessor, Ira Michael Heyman, who is also the former secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He, like Birgeneau, sat quietly in the audience.
One of the names o n the list of the deceased was Therese Thau Heyman, the former chancellor’s wife, who had her own distinguished career as a curator at the Oakland Museum of California.
The names of faculty from Chancellor Berdahl’s home department, history, were notably present on the list, including William Bouwsma, Gunther Barth, and Thomas Smith, in addition to Reginald Zelnik who died in an on-campus accident earlier this year.
At the end of the ceremony P.J. MacAlpine, a 2003 Cal alumnus, sang a soaring “Come Sund ay” by Duke Ellington. Musician Jeff Campbell closed the ceremony as it had begun, with a solo performance on the bagpipes.
As the strains of “Amazing Grace” rang out, a small covey of white pigeons was released, rose into the bright blue sky, and ra pidly circled several times over the crowd before disappearing into the distance.
For a complete list of those memorialized this year and in recent years, visit death-response.chance.berkeley.edu