Remembering beloved former City Council member ‘Mim’ Hawley

Mim Hawley: August 20,1928 – April 12, 2018

Miriam “Mim” Hawley, one of the most beloved City Council members in Berkeley history, died suddenly in her home at Piedmont Gardens, Oakland, on April 12 at age 89.

Long active in local politics, she lived by her strong beliefs, from being an activist PTA president to protesting injustices to running for and winning a seat on the Berkeley City Council in 2000.

Other City Council members at times barely on speaking terms with each other have always agreed on one thing: their abiding affection for her.

“She was a wonderful person who exuded kindness and respect for other people,” said former Mayor Tom Bates, while his longtime adversary, Councilman Kriss Worthington, called her “one of the nicest people ever to serve on the city council.” She used their high regard to good purpose, building bridges on the council where none existed before. “I think just having Mim there made everyone want to behave like grownups,” said Bates. “The council was a lot less pleasant after she left.”

Mim was born Miriam Maxine Mead on Aug. 20, 1928, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the daughter of a schoolteacher and a railroad man and older sister to triplet brothers Wally, Wayne and Warne — all of whom survive her. She attended Antioch College in Ohio, where she met her future husband, Robert “Bob” Hawley, graduating in 1951 with a degree in economics. They married in 1952.

After college, they packed up and headed west, earning gas money along they way. Their plan was to settle in Seattle, but they ran out of money in the Bay Area. Mim took a secretarial job and Bob found a position with Chevron. Soon after they settled in Berkeley and began a family — daughters Lenore, Joanna and Seena, and son Ronald.

Her first foray into local politics was with Berkeley’s Oxford School PTA in the 1960s. When busing students to address de facto segregation was a hotly divisive issue, she was a leader on the pro-bussing side. During anti-Vietnam war riots the National Guard came in to Berkeley. Tear gas affected school children on campuses and buses. Mim was an organizer of the march that led to getting the National Guard out of town. Intent on safeguarding Berkeley’s children, “We (the PTA) organized a march to Civic Center Park to demand that the mayor kick the guard out of the city,” she recounted to her grown children. PTA organizers sent envoys to Telegraph Avenue, telling hippies and students, “Please stay out of this march.” They had a plan: moms in cardigans and skirts pushing baby strollers, demanding a meeting with the mayor. “She was savvy. She knew that if a bunch of hippies joined they wouldn’t get in to City Hall,” said her daughter. They were successful – a meeting with the mayor led to a call to the Governor, and the Guard was ousted from Berkeley.

Mim earned a Master’s in Urban History at San Francisco State in 1971. Not long after, she took a job with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, working on planning the BART system. The only woman and non-engineer at the interview, she sat in her skirt in a room full of men “with skinny ties and briefcases,” she recalled. During her interview she pointed out that planners must consider human needs and behavior as well as geological and engineering requirements. At the end, one interviewer turned to the rest and said, “I think we could use this perspective.” She got the job.

In the mid-1990s she became involved with the League of Women Voters and regional transportation issues. She served on A/C Transit’s board of directors from 1996-2000. Her work with the League and on transportation continued throughout her life; she was called upon by local officials for advice and input on plans and initiatives long after official retirement from her jobs and positions.

In 2000 she was elected to the Berkeley City Council, where her focused concern about how policies affect real people in daily life continued. Her son has observed, “Many people are affected by her influence on this City to this day, whether they are aware of it or not.” One highly visible result of that influence is a skateboard-friendly wall at Civic Center Park: it is one project of several that came out of her proposal that the City create spaces and places where teenagers could feel welcome, rather than feared or shooed away. Another is the Sonoma-Hopkins pedestrian triangle, a neighborhood effort she championed while in office.

She retired from the Council in 2004, continuing civic involvement, including with the Berkeley-Albany-Emeryville League of Women Voters, serving as President 1993-2005, and on the Downtown Berkeley YMCA Board of Directors from 2006 to 2012. She moved to Piedmont Gardens with her husband Bob in late 2015. Bob died on July 18, 2017.

In addition to four children, she leaves behind seven grandchildren — James, Erika, LaRocha, Ben, Damien, Ryan and Bryce — and numerous friends and colleagues.

“She was a real role model,” said Bates. “She was never cutting or divisive, she listened to people, and when she spoke she actually had something to say. We’re going to miss her.”

Memorial Gathering June 16, 1:30 p.m, Northbrae Community Church, Haver Hall.