Bay Nature magazineSpring 2006


Jean Siri Memorial

April 1, 2006

After flying flags at half-mast for 22 days throughout the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), the district’s board members joined fellow board member Jean Siri’s family and nearly 350 other people to celebrate the life of the longtime activist, who died at age 85 on January 20, 2006.

The memorial service took place at Richmond’s Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline, a 295-acre bayshore park that Siri helped preserve.

Jean Siri
Courtesy EBRPD,

“The words ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ didn’t exist in Jean’s dictionary. Yes, go, and how fast—now that was Jean,” said Pat O’Brien, EBRPD’s general manager.

An ardent activist for access to Richmond’s shoreline and East Bay open space, Siri was an early member of the Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee, a small group of women who worked to protect the East Bay shoreline from development and open it up to the community. Siri also served as a council member and two-term mayor for El Cerrito, and sat on the EBRPD board of directors for 14 years. She cared deeply about both the environment and social justice, lobbying for clean air and water in Contra Costa County and for the rights of the elderly and the homeless.

Born in Lakota, North Dakota, in 1920, Siri came to the Bay Area in 1945. She worked as a biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and soon met the man who would become her husband—William Siri, biophysicist, world-renowned mountain climber, and president of the Sierra Club from 1964 to 1966. The socially active dynamic duo was married for 54 years until Will’s death in 2004.

As colleagues and friends shared stories at the podium, it became clear that Siri wasn’t one to tread lightly or speak quietly. The legacy she leaves behind is more than the open shoreline and improved lives of Bay Area citizens; she also leaves behind a model for what one speaker at the memorial called “kick-ass” citizenry.

“Jean helped to change the politics of development,” said U.S. Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez), “and for those of us who have inherited her value of public open space, our challenge now is to ask: Who is going to fill the void of Jean Siri? I think it will probably take more than one of us.”

Donations in Siri’s name are being accepted by the Fresh Start homeless program in Walnut Creek, (925) 935-8446, and by the Regional Parks Foundation, (510) 635-0135.

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.

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