Election Section

Erling Horn, 1905–2009

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Thursday September 17, 2009 - 09:44:00 AM

Little more than a month after the Berkeley Daily Planet ran a front-page article on Erling Horn on the occasion of his 104th birthday, the miraculous life of this admirable man came to an end. After falling in his apartment and suffering a stroke, he was taken to Kaiser Hospital, never to return to the Berkeley Town House, where he had happily resided for many years, though missing his adored wife, Margaret, who passed away at age 91 in 2000. Fortunately, he had an adoring family who looked in on him frequently. His grandson, Jacques, lived across the hall and faithfully attended to his needs, as did his daughter, Maggie, when visiting from Canada. His son, Erling, Jr., former mayor of Lafayette, visited him regularly. 

Erling’s birthday party, held in the Berkeley Town House Lounge, was a celebration to end all celebrations, attended by family, friends and colleagues, some coming from as far as Thunder Bay, Canada. A White House party could not have equalled this one. No expense was spared—it was a catered affair, with scrumptious food and drinks and a birthday cake as big as a football field (almost). After being serenaded with a rousing “Happy Birthday,” accompanied by violin, the guest of honor blew out candles and made a gracious speech. From then on, it was pure pandemonium, small children racing around the room, the rest of us gorging shamelessly on all that food and offering congratulations to Erling, who was prevailed upon to play a few tunes on the large grand piano in the lounge. Looking back on this happy occasion, we’re all so grateful that his life ended on this wonderful note. 

In the Aug. 13 Planet article, we learned of Erling’s early years in Seattle, where he was orphaned at birth and raised by his Norwegian grandmother and four uncles. Attending the University of Washington, serving as a captain in the Coast Guard in World War II, and then, in the l930s, working for Oakland’s planning department, he designed and installed the city’s first parking meters, traffic signs and freeway interfaces. 

After retiring from the City of Oakland in 1961, the Horns settled in the Montclair district, where they raised four children. They then moved to the Berkeley Town House, where Erling served on the Board of Directors. All of us who were his neighbors remember him with great affection—for his hearty laugh, his deep religious faith, his shock of sandy-colored hair that would be the envy of younger men, and his tinkling on the piano in the lounge. Almost to the very end of his life, he would walk to the Berkeley Bowl, toting back heavy grocery bags. 

There can be no question that it was his Norwegian heritage that contributed to this wonderful man’s amazing strength and determination. How we will miss him!