Remembering Jim Smith, West Berkeley community activist
May 1, 1939 – November 10, 2020
James “Jim” Washington Smith died at his Berkeley residence on the evening of November 10, 2020, at the age of 81, after a long battle with multiple myeloma.
Jim was best known for his community organizing work in the fight against drugs and crime in the Rosa Parks neighborhood of West Berkeley in the 1980s and 1990s. As a community activist, he was involved in d ‘countless civic and political issues, organizing, fighting crime and meeting and working with hundreds of people. He frequently attended Berkeley city council meetings. In honor of his outstanding service to the community, former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean said “Jim Smith Day, ”awarding him the Key to the City. He consulted with many local politicians, both incumbent and aspiring, and campaigned for the Sense. Dianne Feinstein in California and Hillary Clinton in her candidacy for national office. Jim dreamed of Berkeley being the model city for our nation, an idea he titled, 21st century Berkeley.
Jim was born in Washington, DC, on May 1, 1939, to Garland and Sarah “Mabel” Purce Smith. They lived in the nearby town of Marshall, Virginia, but then moved to southeast DC when he was just 4 years old.
As a young man, Jim spent three years at Howard University where he studied chemistry. During his studies he worked as a driftwood furniture craftsman in Georgetown. Midway through his studies, he was drafted into the Vietnam War, where he became a hospital laboratory technician at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He enlisted for two years, where he reached the rank of sergeant.
Shortly after returning from the military, Jim met his future wife, Mary (Kaltenbach), while they both worked at the main post office in Washington, DC (now the National Postal Museum) during the winter 1967-68. They both moved to Berkeley in 1970, then married in Reno, Nevada on February 26, 1974.
Jim worked as a mail manager at the Alameda Post Office from 1970 to 1993. During this time Jim and his wife invested in real estate, including buying their home in Northwest Berkeley and various small rental properties in Berkeley and Oakland. Jim would later be elected to serve terms as vice president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association and president of the Black Property Owners Association, where he has given advice and guidance to countless Berkeley owners. In his later years, he welcomed many international students to his apartments on Eighth Street, helping them settle into their new life in Berkeley.
Jim was a passionate volunteer, helping organizations such as Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Rosa Parks Elementary after-school programs in their efforts to support at-risk youth. He was also director of the Ala-Costa Center for Youth with Developmental Disabilities and past chair of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods committee. When Jim was not actively changing the world, he enjoyed train travel, music, dance, science, debate, news, politics, and Asian art and culture. ‘East. He often enjoyed a good conversation over a beer at the Albatross pub.
Jim was a man of faith who dedicated his life to seeking the greater good in all situations. Her kindness and gentleness will continue to inspire a lot.
He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Mary, of Berkeley; daughter-in-law, Erika Gies, and her Richmond husband; stepson, William E. Gies, and his wife of Berkeley; and two step-grandchildren, Bill RT Gies of Oakland and Eliana Gies of Berkeley.
Due to the coronavirus, no burial is planned in the Berkeley area. A small family reunion will be held next year in Marshall, Va., In the house where he was born.