ObituariesObituaries

Remembering Lu Charlotte: Adventurer, educator and ‘Mayor of Solano Avenue’

Lu Charlotte, who passed away on xx. Photo: Courtesy family
Lu Charlotte, who passed away on Aug. 9, 2016. Photo: Courtesy family

Longtime Berkeley resident Lu Charlotte passed away peacefully in her home on The Alameda Aug. 9, 2016. She was 92.

Lu was born Lucille Charlotte Stein on Sept. 15, 1923, in Adams, Massachusetts. A bright and energetic student, she graduated from Adams High School in 1941 as class valedictorian. She subsequently attended Smith College, Massachusetts State College (now the University of Massachusetts) in Amherst, and the University of Maryland, where she studied under noted sociologist C. Wright Mills.

After graduating from Maryland in 1945 she moved to nearby Washington, D.C., where she volunteered as a Red Cross Gray Lady and also worked at both the Red Cross and the Library of Congress. In 1946 she met Joseph Greenberg, a Harvard Ph.D. student in microbiology working at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. They married in December 1946. The union produced four children: Martha and David, twins born in 1948; Douglas, born in 1950; and Russell, born in 1953. The marriage was dissolved in 1971.

Lucille and Joe lived in Washington D.C. until 1950, when they moved to a small home in Silver Spring, Maryland. In 1953 the growing family moved to a larger home in Bethesda. The couple had friends who had moved to San Francisco and encouraged them to discover California for themselves. In 1956, Joe earned a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley for the 1956-1957 academic year. The Greenbergs enjoyed their time in Berkeley, so after returning to Bethesda for most of another year they moved once and for all to California, settling in Palo Alto.

The family crossed the continent by car three times, taking considerable care during the first two migrations to camp, see the country, and experience its national parks. After the first trip in 1956, Lu wrote a lengthy, humorous account of her experiences that she submitted to The New Yorker magazine.

Lu was a stay at home mother while her children were very young, but by 1961 she felt the desire to return to paid work. She went back to school, attending San Jose State College, where she earned a master’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies. She then worked as activities director at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, Idylwood Convalescent Home in Sunnyvale, and the Little House senior center in Menlo Park. In each of these roles, her vivacity, creativity, and devotion to helping people endeared her to co-workers and clients alike.

In 1967, Lu returned to San Jose State to join the faculty. As a professor, she became a pioneer in the field of gerontology. With her energy, verve, and quick wit, she became a favorite teacher in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies (now Health Sciences and Recreation).

Starting in the fall of 1971 she took a year off from teaching to earn her Ed.D. from the University of Northern Colorado. She subsequently became Assistant Dean and then Dean in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts at San Jose State.

Lu had a passion for travel, and her peregrinations included work-related visits to Zambia and England, plus regular pilgrimages to Mexico and Hawaii. She also showed her curiosity and daring by visiting Cuba during the embargo, traveling from Mexico to get around U.S. travel restrictions.

In 1986 she decided to retire from academic life. She moved from Palo Alto to Berkeley, where two of her children, Marti and Doug, lived. She purchased a home less than a block from Solano Avenue and became active within the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association.

During her 30 years in Berkeley, Lu became widely known and beloved for her outgoing, friendly presence while walking her dogs, visiting neighbors and patronizing local shops. Some of her friends referred to her as “The Mayor of Solano Avenue.” In retirement, she devoted herself to arts and crafts, including furniture refinishing, knitting, and weaving.

Throughout her adult life she embraced progressive political causes and candidates, beginning with her support for Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Wallace during the 1940s, and concluding with her enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders in 2016. Personable and with a flair for conversation, she was always willing and able to give advice or lend a sympathetic ear. She devoted many hours and imparted much wisdom to her nine grandchildren, and she lived to enjoy seven great-grandchildren.

Preceding Lu in death was her youngest son Russell, who died in 2013. A private celebration of Lu’s life was held at her Berkeley home on Sunday, Aug. 21. In lieu of flowers, people are encouraged to make donations in her memory to organizations devoted to dog rescue and adoption, including Milo Foundation, Rocket Dog Rescue, and the Berkeley Humane Society.

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