Patricia Hirabara: A beloved, dedicated public servant

Hirabara: capable, warm-hearted, and dedicated to making Berkeley’s recreation centers the best that they could be

Patricia Hirabara, a lifelong Albany resident and a recreation leader for the City of Berkeley for almost 40 years, died Tuesday, Dec. 4, age 66, a few months before her planned retirement.

Pat, as everyone called her, attended Albany High School, graduated from San Francisco State with a degree in recreation, and went to work for Berkeley recreation programs soon afterwards, in 1969. She  earned a teaching credential from California College in 1973.

Over her long career at the City of Berkeley, Hirabara worked at many of the City’s youth programs, including at the City’s Youth Employment Office, the James Kenney Community Center, the Willard Clubhouse, and the Live Oak Community Center, where she was the center director from 1986 to the present.

Never married, she cared for a disabled brother and sister, who survive her; she also cared for her now-deceased father for many years. Quiet but energetic, with a ready smile and laugh, she often lingered at the center, chatting with users or just doing “one more thing.” Neighbors and co-workers describe her as capable, warm-hearted, a team builder, and dedicated to making the recreation center the best that it could be.

“Patricia brought boundless energy and dedication to her role in providing recreation programs to thousands of families and youth in Berkeley,” Pamela Embry of the city manager’s office said on behalf of Berkeley. “Her Summer Fun Camp programs at the Live Oak Center were so popular that families would camp outside the night before registration just to get a spot. Numerous people who attended her programs as children ended up working for the City of Berkeley, and many of the people she hired and supervised are still City of Berkeley employees some ten to twenty years later.”

“She was deeply appreciated and will be sorely missed by her colleagues and the many families in Berkeley that shared in her life’s work.”

“She had so much energy. I had to tell her to go home,” said Marvin Buckley, youth recreation leader who worked with her, in his words, “every day for 33 years.”

“She was a very caring person, always supportive if someone needed to talk. She always treated her staff with respect,” Buckley added.

Jim Edwards, a tennis coach who worked with Hirabara for 25 years, echoed Buckley. “She loved her job and she loved serving the people of Berkeley, and she was extremely good at it.”

Neighbors who used the center spoke of her as “always helpful and accommodating,” “a truly gracious person,” and “an important part of raising my children.” Susan Schwartz, a park neighbor, remembers her going out of the way to write letters of recommendation for teens seeking a first job.

Patricia Bulitt, an interdisciplinary artist and dancer who taught at the Live Oak, and also knew Hirabara for more than 30 years, recalled, “She wasn’t hidden away in her office. It’s a shock to walk into the center without her laughter and warm greeting.”

Yasmin Nezir of Pre-K Power Play, a preschool that meets in the center, said: “We have lost a very important person from the community. She was really caring and spread so much love – and her smile!”

No memorial has yet been scheduled.

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