Lucretia Edwards, who might best be remembered as the mother of Richmond’s magnificent 3,000-plus acres of shoreline parks, died peacefully at her home on Oct. 12. She was 89 years old.
Lucretia is survived by her daughter, Hannah Edwards, two sons, John Edwards and Barnaby Edwards and his wife Linda, and their son Sam Edwards. She was preceded in death by her late husband, Tom Edwards. Plans for a memorial service are still in the planning stage and will be announced later.
After moving to Richmond with her husband Tom shortly after World War II, Lucretia became a legend of community activism. She credited her mother, a “perfect Quaker lady” from Philadelphia, with instilling in her a sense of equality and fairness, as well as civic-mindedness.
Childhood summers spent at the New Jersey shore fostered in her a love of the water. It’s no surprise that she married a man who worked for Standard Oil, now called Chevron, as an oil tanker docking pilot. Fifty-seven years ago, they bought a house in Point Richmond with a panoramic view of the Bay. Lucretia raised three children in that house, and she lived there until the day she died.
Lucretia, however, was much more than civic-minded. She had vision. From the day she arrived in Richmond in 1948, she knew it was “ridiculous” that Richmond’s 32 miles of shoreline offered only 67 feet of public access. “I was enraged by what I saw,” said Lucretia. “You hardly knew that the Bay was there.” Lucretia’s refined manner and soft voice belied the strength of her convictions.
In addition to all her good ideas, she knew what she had to do to get the parks built, and her commitment never wavered. “I joined the League of Women Voters and started finding buddies who agreed with me. Then we just went to meeting after meeting talking about how badly the city needed waterfront parks.” She took federal, state, regional, and local officials—any officials who would listen—out to the bay front to see the possibilities first-hand. “We took them out one at a time, so we could divide and conquer. We did a lot of walking.” The women’s secret weapons were gourmet picnics and lots of cheap champagne, always served liberally as if at a world class resort on Richmond’s scenic beaches, islands and promontories.
She became the leader of Richmond’s Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee, also known as “the little old ladies in tennis shoes,” who coined such slogans as “Tanks, but no tanks,” to suggest that at least some of Richmond’s beautiful waterfront should be used for something other than storing petroleum products.
Creating the Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline Park was one of her proudest achievements. She lobbied heavily for the park, and just as plans were solidifying, the owner of a key parcel that included the park’s highest point, Nicholl Knob, decided to sell to a developer who planned high-rise apartment buildings. Lucretia wept at the news. Her husband, distraught at seeing Lucretia this way, cashed in his pension and bought the land for her as a surprise gift. The Edwards kept ownership of the land until the East Bay Regional Park District could buy it—at the same price the Edwards had paid for it several years earlier.
Not stopping with what is now Miller-Knox, Lucretia and her friends also brought Point Pinole Regional Park into the East Bay Regional Parks District. Lucretia’s Shoreline Committee and others successfully placed East Brother Light Station, the Point Richmond Historic District and the Winehaven Historical District at Point Molate on the National Register of Historic Places.
Of Winehaven, which she saw for the first time in the mid-1970s, Edwards once said, “I fell in love with the buildings. They are so astonishing, those great red-brick castles. They're so out of place, it just made me laugh!”
In the 1980s, there was a move by the master developer of Marina Bay and the City of Richmond to shift some of the previously master-planned Marina Bay waterfront park sites to locations of less prominence and to replace them with housing and commercial development. Lucretia sued the city and settled only after the city committed to preserve the original park sites, one of which later became Lucretia Edwards Park (also part of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park), dedicated in 2002,
Shirley and I first met Lucretia shortly after moving to Richmond in 1973. She spotted me as a “live one” and made sure I was immediately so immersed in community affairs that I didn’t know what had hit me and was never able to extract myself. She took me under her wing, and in short order, I became president of the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council, a charter member of the Richmond Community Development Commission and, later, president of the Point Richmond Business Association. Lucretia served as treasurer of my campaign committee for all the years I ran for office.
In 1978, Lucretia took me to East Brother Light Station, and I became hooked. Lucretia had found out from her husband, Tom, a tugboat captain for Chevron, that the lighthouse was slated for demolition. We subsequently formed a non-profit corporation, East Brother Light Station, Inc., www.ebls.org, and restored the lighthouse, still operating some 25 years later as a bed and breakfast inn in order to maintain the historic structures. Lucretia was a founding member and served on the board of directors of East Brother for many years.
But Lucretia was more than a savior of shorelines and a historic preservationist. In 1989, she was recognized by Congressman George Miller in the Congressional Record for being chosen the Eleventh Assembly District's Woman of the Year by Assemblyman Bob Campbell. The California State Senate and Assembly honored her and 101 other distinguished women at special ceremonies sponsored by the Women Legislator's Caucus. Her involvement in civic affairs began in the 1950s as a member of the League of Women Voters. She was a leader in the establishment of Richmond's neighborhood councils and served on numerous city and county commissions and advisory boards, including the John T. Knox Freeway affirmative action committee and the citizens committee to approve plans for the San Pablo Wildcat Creek Flood Control Project.
Lucretia also worked hard in the race riot years of the 1960s fighting racism in Richmond, where she was one of several founders of the North Richmond Neighborhood House.
Her files on Richmond were also legendary. She could access reams of information on city activities going back decades, citing key municipal actions sometimes conveniently forgotten years later by most. She has authored numerous pieces on Richmond’s tumultuous but always fascinating history, including Port of Richmond 1901-1980, as a project of the Richmond Area League of Women Voters, and A Short History of How the Neighborhood Councils Started in the City Of Richmond, California.
By far, Lucretia’s most enduring legacy is the inspiration she has left for the generations that follow her footsteps, providing an example of how just one tenacious individual can change a city forever and make it a better place for all.
Tom Butt is a member of the Richmond City Council.