Remembering Pat Cody

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday October 05, 2010 - 11:46:00 AM

Last Thursday night we were sorry to learn that Berkeley’s beloved Pat Cody, who founded Cody’s Books along with her late husband Fred, had died at 5:30 that evening, with her children at her side. We put a brief version of these comments on line on Friday, and Pat’s son Anthony Cody sent us an obituary which we published. We asked friends and admirers to send along their reminiscences of Pat, and since then we have been hearing about the mark she left on the world from some of the many people whose lives she touched. 

“Would it have been worth it after all?” asked Eliot’s Prufrock. What in life is worth doing is a perpetual question, especially difficult for those of us who suspect that this life on earth might be all we’re going to get, who question the probability of getting another chance in the hereafter, whenever or wherever that might have been. 

Some—many—seem to believe that the reason for life in the world is to amass as large a share as possible of the goods of the world before you die. How else to explain the behavior of the small percentage of Americans who hold a generous percentage of the nation’s wealth, and still are trying to get more? 

Others are perpetual seekers after knowledge, at every level from lifelong academic research down to taking endless knitting classes at the local yarn shop—but death destroys accumulated knowledge. Physical beauty and its greedy sibling sexuality are important to many—but these people tend to be disappointed when youth departs, often taking beauty and associated pleasures with it. 

The French talk about “l’homme moyen sensible”—the ordinary person, man or woman, with normal desires and ambitions. What should reasonable humans—and especially women—aspire to in life? 

Anyone who’s wondering how to live, and why, could profit from studying how Pat Cody answered this question. In her 87 years she did a host of things, big and small, with vigor and grace. Her life spanned a period of enormous change in perceptions of what women could and should do, and she changed and grew with the times. She aspired to many of the worthwhile goals which have been suggested for all of us, and achieved most of them—a renaissance woman who was a shining beacon in the dark ages of the last half century. 

In a 2003 profile, her longtime friend Dorothy Bryant sketched Pat’s many visible public achievements: six significant projects which all had lasting benefits. She’s counted as a founder of Cody’s Books (with her husband Fred—for many years one of the finest bookstores in the world), of Women for Peace (first to sound the alarm about the Vietnam War), of the Berkeley Free Clinic, the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective and DES Action (which supported women and their children who were harmed by a chemical prescribed in pregnancy in what became a world-wide movement). After Fred died she was part of Berkeley’s pioneer grief support group. 

And while accomplishing all this, she also enjoyed a wonderful marriage with Fred, raised four lively and opinionated children and gave great pleasure to all of us who patronized their bookstore. One of my fondest memories of my first years in Berkeley is Christmas shopping at Cody’s on Telegraph, with the rosy-cheeked Cody offspring cheerily wrapping our book gifts for us. All four grew up to be public-spirited citizens who are now doing their part to save the world as their parents did before them. 

Among Pat’s many generous acts in her last years was loyally supporting and occasionally contributing to the Berkeley Daily Planet in a variety of ways. She wrote us concise letters on a variety of topics, sent financial contributions when we were hard up, and even stopped by the office occasionally to encourage us as she took her constitutionals around the neighborhood. 

In one of those letters, she made a modest suggestion for improving the world which might be considered by those contemplating an appropriate memorial: 

Many of us elders walk daily for our health and for errands, as we no longer drive. I want to advocate more resting stops, like the ones found at bus stops, but scattered through neighborhoods where buses do not go. Lack of such benches keeps many elders virtually housebound.  

Anyone who has yard space could put out a small bench for weary passers-by with Pat’s name on it. Those who don’t have space could organize a modest campaign to provide some benches for public areas. This would be a simple but effective way of honoring her memory and continuing her tradition of public service. 


Letters about Pat have started to come in from Berkeley and around the world. Here are the first submissions:  

When my husband and I picked up our daughter in the late '70's at SFO, we did so in our VW bus. Since we usually carried our hot air balloon in the bus (painted as the Yellow Submarine) all the back seats were out so everyone made themselves comfortable on the floor with their luggage. Teri had been in Hawaii with a friend, returning from the wonderful hospitality of two other people who also returned on the same plane as they. Of course we readily agreed to drive these other two to their home in Berkeley. When we dropped them off, we finally introduced ourselves. "We're Pat and Fred." "Cody?" I was shocked that we had such famous people sitting on the floor of our VW bus. Famous? Yes. Wonderful, caring gentlepeople? YES!

Rita Wilson

Not only was Pat Cody a consummate activist, but she was a wonderful mentor in helping start our DES Action group in Sydney. Our group will always remember her fondly and will miss her.

Carol Devine
Coordinator, DES Action Australia-NSW

Truly a classic New England kind of old fashioned person of complete integrity, modest, perceptive, compassion for others and all the other good things we have cherished for decades.

Joan Levinson

Since everyone knows about Pat's activism, passion for social justice, public service, indignation at social injustice, I'd just simply to tell readers what it was like to arrive in Berkeley in 1967 and have the unbelievable good luck of living across the street from Pat and Fred Cody and their children. From them, I learned about Berkeley. With them, I went to peaceful demonstrations. In the street, we celebrated Johnson's resignation. I loved their children and spent time photographing them and giving the portraits to Pat, who always graciously thanked me as though I were Ansel Adams. I was so young; she had already done so much and that I admired. Pat became my heroine first, then my friend. She was always smarter and sharper than anyone else, and she modestly and quietly took on world health practices of using the chemical DES after she discovered its impact on a mother's children. From a small kitchen table, she launched a global health movement and that is only of dozens of things for which we shall remember her. Pat, you had a glorious, triumphant life. I'll miss you.

Ruth Rosen
Professor Emerita of History, U.C. Davis
Visiting Professor of History, U.C. Berkeley

Please send your own memories of Pat Cody to opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com, and we’ll publish them.