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In Memory of Mary Bergan

By Gail Wallace

We at the League in Oakland join Mary’s family, friends and colleagues in mourning her passing on November 30. We are deeply grateful that she devoted her exceptional talents and experience to our education and advocacy efforts for so many years.

We didn’t need to recruit Mary after her retirement in 2007 from the presidency of the California Federation of Teachers. In typical collegial fashion, she invited our then president to lunch to explain that she’d chosen to join the League because our nonpartisan stance made us singularly effective. No surprise that Mary wanted her volunteer efforts to matter. She had been named most effective lobbyist and received the Ben Rust Award for her work leading the CFT.

She brought great insight and discipline to the analysis of ballot measures - our pros and cons - each election season. She was adamant that we read every word of legislation, a rule she’d adopted to great effect as a lobbyist in Sacramento. We admired her fierce commitment to cogent arguments, clear writing and correct grammar and punctuation. What we may not have realized was that she was channeling her prior work as a middle school English teacher in Pittsburgh, as well as her Peace Corp teaching assignment in Malaysia. 

Mary was a people person to her bones. So League work was an intentional choice because it brought her connections, camaraderie and collaboration with other League members. We all have been sharing our memories - and they are numerous - because Mary set herself to whatever tasks needed doing, most prominently as a Board member and Chair of our Advocacy Committee, but also as a participant in community events where we encouraged voter registration and promoted the League. That’s not even mentioning that she knew Robert’s Rules and acted as parliamentarian at our local meetings and state conventions.

Mary lived a very full life professionally and in retirement, as her obituary and CFT memorial chronicle. Her involvement with the League gave her a vehicle for continuing two important throughlines of her professional life: civic engagement and the promotion of responsive government. We are so glad she identified the Oakland League as a way to carry those efforts into retirement and that she took such palpable joy in the work. 

Many were the meetings and lunches we shared, including with leaders of other organizations and with elected officials.  Often, meetings ended with Mary asking if the participants were League members. That’s why we know we would have her blessing in ending this remembrance asking whether you have joined and support the League or any other educational or civic organization that enriches our lives and our community. We know no finer way to honor her legacy than to emulate her engagement.

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