Remembering Charlotte Rieger: A beautiful life

Charlotte Rieger: Feb. 16, 1928–Feb. 22, 2019

Charlotte Fair Rieger of Berkeley, California, died quietly on Feb. 22, 2019, at the age of 91.

Charlotte was born to Marjorie Mhoon Fair and Harry Heasley Fair of Piedmont, California, where she shared many improbable adventures with her dashing older brother, Harry, and her little sister, Ann. Her parents loved the outdoors, and she grew up riding, shooting, skiing and horse packing in the High Sierras. She attended Piedmont High School and Stanford University, where she majored in fine art, then earned a nursing degree.

She became a visiting nurse at UC San Francisco Hospital, tending to home-bound patients in the city. It was there that she met and married Dr. John Rieger III, a former naval aviator who would make flying a part of her life. They moved to Seattle for John’s residency, and there her first son was born. The family relocated to Los Gatos, California, where John III entered private practice in obstetrics and gynecology.

In the years that followed, Charlotte took on the substantial responsibilities of raising four rambunctious sons in a rambling, old, three-story house in the Los Gatos foothills — impossible to clean, she complained, but a paradise for the boys, who would disappear for hours in the scrub-covered hills around the house. She loved having sons, and introduced the boys to the things she loved: museums, the theater, skiing, horseback riding, backpacking and car camping in her ’63 Citroën station wagon, from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains.

Charlotte and her husband were part of the ethical ferment in medicine in the 1960s. Early proponents of sex education and legal abortion, they sheltered pregnant teens who had been shunned by their families, and were instrumental in the establishment of Planned Parenthood of Santa Clara. After their separation in 1971, Charlotte worked as a Lamaze childbirth instructor, then went on to earn her master’s degree in public health at San Jose State University while working and keeping a loving home.

An artist at heart, Charlotte filled her world with projects and invention. Her parties, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, were warm, raucous events filled with loud conversation. She took up photography and kept a darkroom. She played the piano and the classical guitar. She read voraciously, painted in watercolor, bicycled across France, and became a truly gifted gardener, once featured in Sunset Magazine.

In 1986, she moved to Berkeley, where, she declared, she had always belonged. There, she volunteered for many years at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Berkeley chapter of the Sierra Club. Everything in Charlotte’s orbit expressed her exuberance for living, from the bumper-stickers crowding her car to the profusion of books and music, artwork and newspaper clippings, puzzles, gizmos, and figures of the Buddha that filled her home.

Charlotte is survived by her sister, Ann Brannagan (Miles Brannagan) of Concord, California, and her sons John Rieger (Susan Rieger) of Berkeley, California; Jeff Rieger (Laurence Hauben) of Carnelian Bay, California; Jim Rieger (Caroline McKay) of Millwood, Virginia; and Chris Rieger of San Jose, California. She has four thriving grandchildren: Schuyler and Hunter Rieger of Santa Cruz, California; Emily McWhinney of Zurich, Switzerland; and Andrew McWhinney of Blacksburg, Virginia. Charlotte lives on in all our hearts as an inspiration to seize the day.

A private memorial will be held on May 12 in Berkeley. To inquire, or to share your memories, please contact John Rieger at 510-848-8544 or email charlotte.memorial@riegerworld.com. In lieu of flowers, Charlotte would value a contribution to the Sierra Club of California.