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.

Berkeleyside is always honored to publish, at no cost, obituaries of members of the Berkeley community. Please email text and photo(s) to

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  • Pat Mapps

    In the summer of 1988, I was riding a bicycle along the main street of Garberville, CA, when a car entering a gas station came perilously close to cutting me off. I noticed that the vehicle (a gold Accura as I recall) had ‘Oakland’ on the back license plate frame. I looked more closely and recognized the occupants of the vehicle were Marty and Anna Rabkin. I followed them into the station and passed a few minutes of conversation with them.

    They told me they were coming back from some long, rambling car trip to the north. I’ve forgotten how far they went, but remember it being a long ways, maybe even two thousand miles. They told me that in the past, no matter how far they had traveled, they always had seen somebody they knew. They might even have said they always saw somebody they knew from Berkeley. On this trip, they hadn’t encountered anybody from Berkeley…until that moment about 200 miles from home. I was honored to be that Berkeley person who kept their streak going.

    Another time, I needed to find a new accountant. I was inside of the Bank of America next to the French Hotel wondering how I was going to find one. I thought, “I bet Marty could recommend an accountant for me.” I was looking out of the bank window and, at that very moment, Marty passed by. I went out and asked him for a recommendation. Of course, he knew exactly which accountant I should use. And I did.

    What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man.

  • Mal Warwick

    It’s impossible for me to recall the multitude of kindnesses, both small and large, that Marty Rabkin paid me in the course of our nearly 40-year friendship. In our political work together in Berkeley Citizens Action in the 1970s . . . as a founding member of the board of my company, Mal Warwick & Associates, who served for a full 25 years . . . as a counselor to me on management and investment questions . . . and as a dear personal friend. Marty was truly, to use a word my parents favored, a mensch. His passing leaves a big hole in my life.

  • Richard Walker

    When I was young and new to Berkeley, Marty and Anna were an indelible part of the Berkeley political scene, which left a deep impression on me. It’s a sad moment to see Marty pass away, yet a reminder of some very good times in this city. My condolences to Anna and the family.