Richard Lerner, 1939-2015

Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:50:00 AM

Richard “Dick” Lerner, anthropologist, political organizer and gardener, died Dec. 16 surrounded by family and friends. 

He was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1939 and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He came from a family of activists. His father was an organizer, writer and photojournalist for the United Electrical Workers of America, one of four unions expelled from the AFL-CIO for their left politics. The other unions were the Leather and Fur Workers, the Mine, Mill and Smelter Union, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. 

Dick published his father’s memoir, “Course of Action,” in 2012. 

Dick was and active citizen and community organizer in Berkeley for several decades. He helped run many successful local election campaigns for the progressive Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) and was a founder of the LeConte Neighborhood Association. He loved all things cooperative. He served for many years on the Board of Directors of the Federal Cooperative Credit Union in Berkeley. 

He graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1962 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and went on to teach three years at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He pursued a PhD program in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and completed his degree on agricultural cooperatives in India. His India photographs and cultural artifacts are preserved at the Hearts Museum of Anthropology. They were the subjects of a major exhibit at the Museum in 2006. 

After the passage of the National Historical Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in the early 1970’s, Dick and other San Francisco district civilian employees has the unique opportunity to do innovative work to implement the new environmental and cultural protections passed by Congress, In 1974, Dick was the first anthropologist hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Among his specialties were historical archaeology, ethnobotany, and documentary filmmaking. Dick was often acknowledged for pioneering work in tribal relations and for the standards he set for cultural resource programs related to the Corps projects. 

He remained active in professional societies and authored and edited numerous confere3nce papers and articles. He was also responsible for the San Francisco District/s research contracts and academic institutions. These studies resulted in many volumes covering prehistoric and historic archaeology, linguistics, ethnohistorical and ethnobotanical subjects. 

After years of retirement, Dick recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Army Corps of Engineers for the 24 years he worked there as an anthropologist. The occasion for the award presentation was the 23ed Annual Consulting with Tribal Nations Federal Training Program held in San Francisco kin October 2015. 

His family described him as “valiant, loyal and tenacious.” 

Donations in Dick Lerner’s honor may be made to Bay Nature or Doctors Without Borders.