Woman, 94, died after North Berkeley crash in September

Crash at Marin Circle. Photo: Kara Kimmel‏

Berkeleyside learned this week that a 94-year-old woman involved in a crash in North Berkeley in September died in the hospital just days after the crash. Friends have identified the woman as Janet Messman of Kensington.

The Berkeley Police Department said previously that a red Honda Accord coming down the hill on Marin Avenue on Sept. 26 swerved into oncoming traffic, then hit a Fiat at the westbound stop sign at Marin Circle. The fiat struck a van that was also at the stop sign, and the Honda then ran into a Ford Explorer that was eastbound on Marin. Both people in the Honda were taken to Highland Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, police said.

Police said this week that the driver of the red Honda died at Highland several days after the crash, on Sept. 29. The primary collision factor in the case is still under investigation, police said.

Messman was driving the Honda, and had a friend in the car with her, said Andy Gaines, executive director of Ashby Village, where both women were active members. The organization is focused on helping older individuals stay independent as long as possible, and offers a range of activities and services to that end.


Gaines said the woman who was in the car with Messman sustained serious injuries, but has since returned home and is recovering.

Gaines said Messman was an “incredibly robust” woman who had been a member of Ashby Village nearly since its inception in 2010. Messman was active in many Ashby Village offerings, including a weekly yoga class.

“They had a really deep group connection, the folks in that yoga class,” Gaines said Monday.

Messman had deep ties in Berkeley, though she was born in New Jersey. According to Ashby Village, she moved to the Bay Area in 1958 to pursue a master’s in psychology at UC Berkeley. She met her husband, Bob Messman, while pursuing her studies, and went on to work at Kaiser, the Institute of Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley, and the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies and Higher Education. She also directed an educational program in Contra Costa County called Tutor Richmond Youth (TRY).

“Janet forged her own way in a business world dominated by men, becoming the personnel manager for Edward Sterns and Company, a large printing company in Philadelphia,” according to her obituary. “Janet’s sharp wit, incredible zeal for living, and deep compassion for others is the gold standard of a life well lived.”


Messman was also “a long time friend and supporter of the YWCA,” said Sharon Bettinelli, former executive director of the Berkeley YWCA. Messman was elected to the organization’s board in 1984, “bringing with her a long and wonderful association with the YWCA.”

“Janet was such a lovely person,” Bettinelli told Berkeleyside on Tuesday.

Messman’s ties to the YWCA date back to 1935 when, in seventh grade in Philadelphia, she became a member of the YWCA Girl Reserves Club. She later attended Bucknell College in Pennsylvania and was active in the campus YWCA / YMCA. She served as its president her senior year. She decided at that point she wanted to work for the YWCA after graduation, and applied to be its Teen Program Director at the national headquarters. She got the job.

Several years later, Messman moved to San Jose to take up her “dream job” as co-executive director of the San Jose Student YWCA / YMCA: “With a variety of responsibilities, her favorite was organizing and leading monthly retreats for the  students, with current affairs and racial issues being the consistent topics. These were  followed by big dinners. Janet loved this job,” Bettinelli wrote in a remembrance of Messman that will be shared with the YWCA in the next month.

Messman went on to hold a number of other positions with the YWCA, and eventually joined the board of the Berkeley / Oakland chapter in 1984.


“Janet supported our work and events and often came by the YWCA to visit and keep up to date about what we were doing. Always helpful, supportive and giving of her vast knowledge and experience, she shared many of her books and YWCA materials with us, both for using now and for the archives. She will be greatly missed by all,” Bettinelli wrote.

Gaines, of Ashby Village, said the organization has been offering support to Messman’s close friend who was in the car with her, to help her with her own path to recovery. In addition to Messman’s death, several other Ashby Village members died recently too, and the wine country fires had impacts on the community as well.

“Everybody knows people up there,” Gaines said. “It’s kind of a sobering moment.”

Gaines said the Ashby Village community has been pulling together after the deaths and fires, and is talking about creating an annual collective memorial time to recognize members who have died.

“It’s always deeply impactful when someone dies,” Gaines said. “Even though people [here] are losing people more frequently, it’s always a tender place.”

A memorial service has been planned for Messman for this coming weekend but the family declined to comment for this story, and requested that those details not be published.