Remembering social activist, KPFA producer Frances Emley

Emley Frances and her dog Hope. Frances died on Dec. 1, 2015
Emley Frances and her dog Hope. Emley died in December.

Frances Emley (Aug. 26, 1931 – Dec. 1, 2015)

Social activist and KPFA radio producer Frances Emley, whose clear voice reported for many years on the struggles of the powerless and disenfranchised, died peacefully in December. Many will remember her as the woman who walked her dogs on the Berkeley Pier wearing a matador hat.

A native of Wheeling, West Virginia, Frances helped out in her parents’ diner, Frazier’s Southern Lunch, as a child. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from the University of West Virginia where she met her husband, Edward Emley. She later earned a master’s degree in library science at the University of Michigan. They lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and had two girls before he died in an auto accident in 1966. Frances raised her daughters on the San Francisco Bay area mid-Peninsula before settling in Berkeley.

In the early 1970s, anti-war protesters at Stanford University inspired Frances to pick up a tape-recorder and craft her first radio news report for KPFA. She had no previous radio experience, but wanted people to hear alternative viewpoints in the news. Soon, she was splicing large reels of tape on her kitchen table, editing poignant interviews about farmworkers using the short hoe, Chilean victims of torture, American incarcerated youth, veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure and Native Americans trying to secure land rights.

Her programs, still archived at KPFA and Pacifica Radio, raised awareness about the plight of others’ suffering and the importance of speaking out. She loved a story of rebellion.

A life-long volunteer, Frances helped at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley and later turned her efforts to feeding the homeless. She could often be found serving hot meals to those in need through the Night on the Streets-Catholic Worker program.

After renovating a Queen Anne Victorian in South Berkeley, she housed students from all over the world with whom she fostered life-long friendships. Residents of the Lorin District will remember her extraordinary garden and determined efforts to improve and beautify the neighborhood. Frances was very much a steward of her neighborhood, lobbying to have speed bumps on her street, personally funding and planting trees to line her street and assisting neighbors in planting gardens of their own.

Those that knew her will remember her delightful laugh and smiling eyes, even into her final years when she suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Frances was preceded in death by her parents, Frank and Cecil Frazier, and brothers Thomas A. and Robert Frazier. She leaves daughters Margot Emley (Phil Thomson) of Berkeley and Jane Emley (Horacio Crego) of Richmond with a boundless appreciation of beauty, a love of words and a determined and courageous spirit. In addition to her daughters, she is survived by granddaughter Amanda Crego Emley of New Haven, Connecticut, and sister Harriet C. Frazier of Kansas City, Missouri.

A memorial will be held 1:30-2:30 p.m., Jan. 10, at The Berkshire, 2235 Sacramento St., Berkeley. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to a local hospice organization.

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