Remembering Marty Rabkin: An active Berkeley citizen

Marty Rabkin, who died on Dec. 22.

Long-time Berkeley resident Martin (“Marty”) Rabkin died at home surrounded by family on Dec. 22, 2013, shortly after being diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. He was 81.

From the 1970s to 1990s, Rabkin was a leader within the political organization Berkeley Citizens Action, campaigning tirelessly for— and becoming close friends with — candidates such as Tom Bates, Loni Hancock, Dion Aroner, and the late Ann Chandler, not to mention his wife Anna Rabkin, who served as Berkeley City Auditor from 1979 to 1994. Reflecting on his role in their lives, Hancock, now a state senator, and Bates, now mayor of Berkeley, said:

“For more than forty years Marty Rabkin was a central figure in Berkeley’s political life. He was a thoughtful and respected strategic advisor to us and many others. More than that, Marty was our dear and beloved friend — his vitality and humor, his keen intellect, and his zest for living made him a cherished part of our lives. His determination to live independently, in spite of increasingly debilitating Parkinson’s Disease over the last decade, was a lesson in grit, grace, and valor in the face of adversity. He was a man who fully lived every moment of his life — we are grateful for having been able to share much of it with him.”

Rabkin served on the Berkeley Economic Development Commission and the board of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, and was involved in the effort to create a sister city for Berkeley in China and numerous other community projects. For many years, he volunteered in the Friends of the Library bookstore in downtown Berkeley, stopping only when he became too ill to continue.

For all his work in the community, Rabkin was perhaps best known for the generous spirit he brought to his personal relationships. He struck up friendships wherever he went — on the bus, in the library, at the barber shop. For countless friends and family members, he was the one to call for a late-night ride to the airport or the hospital, for advice on all manner of subjects, for help in moments of crisis. He could be relied on to provide good Scotch, strong coffee, tall tales, and bad puns.

Born in New York, Rabkin attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, then went to Cornell, where he participated in the ROTC. After serving in the Army in post-war Germany, he returned to take over the family business, International Mutoscope, following the death of his father. He met Anna Rose, his wife-to-be, at the Manhattan travel agency where his widowed mother was working. In the early 1960s the couple migrated west, first to San Francisco and then to Berkeley, where Rabkin received his MBA in 1964.

While Rabkin spent most of his professional career as a self-employed management consultant, he also held management positions at the Daily Cal and the Berkeley-based company Plastic Works, was co-owner of The Boater’s Friend chandlery, and served for many years on the board of Mal Warwick & Associates.

An avid photographer who travelled extensively, in retirement he co-authored with his wife the book, Public Libraries: Travel Treasures of the West. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed backpacking, skiing, speed-walking, and sailing (and played a mean hand of poker). In later life Parkinson’s limited his mobility, but he stayed fit and busy, forming warm friendships with his fellows “Parkies” through the organization PD Active.

In addition to his wife of 54 years, he is survived by his children, Michele and Mark; grandchildren Lauren Payne and Nora Thompson, and their parents Susan Payne and Michael Thompson; his sister Betty Taller, sister-in-law Martha Rabkin, brother-in-law Arthur Rose, sister-in-law Vicki Azara, and their children and grand-children; and by dear friends Mal Burnstein and Catherine Trimbur. He was pre-deceased by his brother, Professor Norman Rabkin.

His family would like to express their deep gratitude to all the friends who provided support during Marty’s final days. In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to PD Active, BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency), or the ACLU.

Feel free to share your messages of condolence and/or memories of Marty Rabkin in the comments.

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