Opinion: A tribute to Betty Olds

Patrick Kennedy gave a tribute to Betty Olds at her retirement party eight years ago. Olds died on July 16, but, Kennedy says, what he said applies as much today as it did then.

Patrick Kennedy gave this tribute to former Berkeley City Councilwoman Betty Olds at her retirement party on March 22, 2009, at the Mira Vista Country Club. Olds died on July 16, but, Kennedy says, his words are “just as true today as she is ever more appreciated.”

How does one govern a city whose citizens the Wall Street Journal described as “torn between a desire to overthrow the U.S. Government and a quest for the perfect croissant?”

… A place where City Council meetings are combination of endurance tests, operatic grandstanding, and Kabuki Theater? In Betty Old’s case, it is with plain speaking, common sense, and grace.

After all, who else but Betty could object to a City Council proposal to allow 16-year-olds to vote by saying “We have enough idiots voting already.”

Where political correctness seems to be the civic religion, Betty stood for an older, and timeless credo – doing what is sensible, doing what is intelligent, doing what is right.

Which is not to say she always did what I – or others — thought was right.

Imagine my surprise during the tree-sitting soap opera, to see Betty on the front page of the Daily Planet, perched on a large limb of one of the offending oaks, protesting the removal of the grove. But she is a lifelong member of the Sierra, and founding member of Save the Bay.

We were certainly on opposite sides on this matter, and on many others.

But that underscores, really, what I, and others, cherished about our friendship – Betty would tell you the truth. She was not a handicapper, she was not a “nuancer,” she was not a shader.

And her constituents, to their credit, loved that. Last election she got upwards of 80% of the vote, the largest majority in council history

In addition to the votes and support of her District 6, she garnered the respect and affection of a wide swath of the city, and the gratitude of those wanting responsible, accountable, and effective government in Berkeley.

It should be noted, she is capably succeeded by a women of equal talents, her longtime aide, Susan Wengraf. We are in good hands.

But I think speak for all of us here, no-one can REPLACE Betty. Her chair on the council will be filled, her office occupied, and her constituents well attended to. No-one can, or will match her unique combination of outsized heart, unflinching honesty and good humor that she brought to the office.

Let us raise a glass to salute her and to thank her.

Patrick Kennedy is the owner of Panoramic Interests, which has been developing housing in Berkeley since 1990.