Robert Norton Nichols, 52, passed away at his home in Berkeley after a brief illness. He was born May 14, 1953 in New Bedford, Mass., to Oliver (Nick) Winslow Nichols and Elizabeth Norton Nichols, now deceased. He attended Pennsylvania State College before moving west and becoming a union stagehand with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 107, working theatrical events Bay Area wide.
He was active in his union, helping others move into and through the union ranks, and equally active on other unions’ picket lines. He worked tirelessly for housing rights, even taking dying homeless people into his home, so they would at least have a place to die.
He acted as payee for people who couldn’t manage their checks, and handed out hundreds of dollars worth of wool blankets personally to people in need on the streets at Christmas. Nichols helped battered women obtain restraining orders, and was a birthing coach and surrogate parent to a friend who was a single mother.
When local papers failed to cover what Nichols considered to be the corruption of local politicians, he started the Hard Times, a forerunner of the current Pepper Spray Times, anonymously writing, publishing, and distributing the paper with friends.
Bob Nichols was an exceptional writer and musician, who played drums, bass, guitar, and sang in local rock and folk bands. He wrote poetry, songs, radio skits for Free Radio Berkeley, political satire, and unfailingly original letters and opinion pieces in the local press.
Nichols was a civil libertarian and People’s Park advocate, one of the original 36 arrestees who stopped the bulldozers when the university tried to designate the park as a volleyball court. He arranged a silent vigil with a group, holding candles on the sidewalk near People’s Park to contest the legality of the inevitable arrests, which the courts, inexplicably, upheld.
Nichols leaves a legacy of unparalleled compassion, incisive writing, and good humor. He is survived by three brothers: his twin brother Harry Nichols of Lancaster, Pa., and wife Jeane Nichols; Duncan Nichols of Lancaster, Pa.; and Thomas Nichols and wife Kim Nichols of Lancaster.
A public memorial service will be held Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Union Hall at 8130 Baldwin St., Suite 124, Oakland (main hall in the back).
Letters of condolence may be sent to his family care of Carol Denney, 1970 San Pablo Avenue #4, Berkeley, CA 94702, and donations in Bob’s remembrance may be made to Project Open Hand, 730 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109, (415) 447-2419.