Remembering Ted Edlin, a man with a dry wit who was active in Berkeley politics

Ted Edlin worked in the computer and energy industries and was a former president of Berkeley’s Council of Neighborhood Associations and a member of the Fire Commission.

Theodore R. Edlin (Ted) died Dec. 15, 2020, of lymphoma at 85 years old. He was diagnosed only 12 days before his death, in part because he continued his energetic life until near the end.

Ted had many curious stories including racing two friends across the country, him in a car and the two of them in a private plane they were flying. Driving 20 to 22 hours per day, he won what was for a while a close race after his friends were fogged in in St. Louis.

Known for his eccentric dry wit, Ted was to many an endearing curmudgeon who one friend said gave “feisty” a positive spin.  For roughly half a century he was active in Berkeley politics, opposing rent control and advocating for better city management.

Born in Waterbury, Conn. to a secular Jewish family, Ted went to Reed College, where he finished with a BA in physics in 1957. Rejecting the snobbery he witnessed back east, he funded school in part by working construction and jockeying in a gas station. He went on to work in the aerospace industry for Douglas Aerospace on the development of rocket launches, where he learned that firms that made money on cost-plus government contracts did not applaud his accomplishment of reducing costs in his area by 75% and more. After a break to become a lawyer, he went on to work in the early computer industry as a lawyer/manager for several firms in the late 1960s and 1970s, all of which failed, but which launched folks who later became billionaires and luminaries in the computer industry at Xerox Parc, Adobe and Microsoft. His own group left to NASA Ames where they managed to get ILLIAC IV up and running, to become the first network-available supercomputer, beating the Cray, and for a while being the fastest computer of its time. From there, Ted moved to the energy field and ran California’s failed bid to get the Solar Energy Research Institute. In a varied career, the place he most identified as home might have been Art Rosenfeld’s energy and environment group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory where he worked as an administrator. Or he might have been most at home doing construction on a couple of small apartment buildings that he and his former wife, Dorothy Edlin, owned in Berkeley.


Although he called himself a landlord, it would be fair to say he was a housing provider and the many notes left by former tenants who kept in touch testify to the many hundreds or thousands of quick responses in which he ended up on his back under a sink or with a plunger or snake in a toilet to fix a drain for a UC student or young professional who didn’t know what was appropriate to put down a drain.

In Berkeley politics, Ted fought against rent and eviction controls, explaining with countless anecdotes to anyone who would listen to the many ways in which these policies, particularly as implemented in Berkeley, reduce the supply of housing and create an ever more dilapidated housing stock. He fought for fiscal prudence in a city that he was convinced had an entrenched ruling political class that took advantage of the goodwill and liberal instincts of voters who had too little time to become informed. In the course of these battles, he made many friends and no doubt a few enemies.

Ted lived in Berkeley for more than 50 years and served as president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, vice-president of NEBA, chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, and as a member of the Fire Commission, now known as the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission.

Ted was generous with his time and was happy to help those who needed advice, legal work, brainstorming on city initiatives and political strategy, or help with construction or maintenance.

He is survived by his son Aaron Edlin, his stepson Noel Edlin, five grandchildren, Josh, Alex, Quinn, Cole, and Adam Edlin, by his girlfriend Janet Rothman and by his former wife of 43 years, Dorothy Edlin.