Commentary: Fay Stender, Good Samaritan By BRIAN GLUSS

Tuesday May 17, 2005

Fay Abrahams Stender, a world-renowned liberal lawyer and pacifist, died May 19, 1980, as a direct result of six gunshot wounds suffered in 1979, in her home in Berkeley. A city resident for most of her good life, she was born of a long line of Berkeley-born family. 

May 19 will be the 25th anniversary of Fay’s death. As a long-time friend of Fay’s, I am urging the city to proclaim a Fay Stender Day and honor her in every way possible, including a suitable—and well-publicized—ceremony. She deserves no le ss. 

Like all Good Samaritans, Fay was a modest person who never blew her own trumpet. She just quietly went about bettering the lives of many, many thousands of people. The depth and scope of her good works were well-nigh astonishing. 

She is perhaps bes t-known for championing prison reform and women’s rights, but she did much more. Civil rights, civil liberties, Her anti-war activities. Her anti-Apartheid work. Her work for the “disappeareds” in South America. You name it, and she was there on the front line. 

As a long-time partner of famed San Francisco-based defense attorney Charles Garry (along with her husband Marvin), she helped literally thousands of prisoners pro bono, in toto spending more time in San Quentin, visiting her charges, than many pr isoners. Huey Newton and George Jackson were amongst her pro bono clients, but mainly she helped the poor and the down-trodden, prisoners who could not afford adequate counsel for defense and appeal. It was this work that ultimately got her killed. (Ther e is no rational explanation for such evil acts.) 

On a personal note, although I saw little of her in her final years (I lived in Chicago), I was privileged to be her friend for 25 years, from a few days after I got off the boat from England, August 1955. Her husband Marvin is my oldest American friend. My first job in the U.S. was as a statistician on the now-famous Jury Project at the University of Chicago Law School. Marvin was on the project, Fay was then a law-student whom I met a few days after I m et Marvin. 

A little-known fact, Fay was a very fine classical pianist. The first year, I lived at International House, and Fay would visit occasionally and play Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms on the grand piano in the vast lounge. I knew even then that Fay was a very special human being, beautiful within and without. Warm, friendly, with an exceptionally fine mind. She left two great children, Oriana and Neal. 

On this 25th anniversary of her death, Fay deserves to be remembered with honor, for a good life well-lived. There are few Fay Stenders in this far from perfect world of ours. Selfless people who quietly go around helping their human beings as a way of life. 

We should honor such rare and wonderful people. Fay deserves no less. Let us have a Fay Stender Day in Berkeley, and let it be worthy of Fay. Not merely a proclamation dashed off in 5 minutes, but a formal day of celebrations of Fay’s good life. 

Fay Stender lives on the scores, if not hundreds of thousands of lives she touched directly and indirectly. Let us not forget her. 


Brian Gluss is a Berkeley writer, researcher and political activist.Ã