Former City Council member and vice mayor Gilda Feller, known for her efficiency and compassion, passed away last Friday in her family home at the age of 96 due to natural causes.
Aside from serving two four-year terms on the City Council, Feller also served as foreman of the Alameda County Grand Jury and was president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Feller was very active as a member of the City Council in the ‘80s, and, according to Shirley Dean — who served as Mayor of Berkeley from 1998 to 2002 — she made big contributions and held her positions well in a civilized manner.
“You really never got mad at her if you disagreed,” Dean said. “She was great to work with. She was just a wonderful person.”
Feller was a “no-nonsense individual” who often preferred to tackle practical problems rather than simply talk about them, said her son Daniel Feller, adding that she was also passionate about social and civil rights issues.
Gilda Feller’s passion for social justice was time-honored and dates back to the ‘60s when she was fighting for integration while living on the east coast.
“One of my earlier memories is going with mom to a civil rights demonstration at a (segregated) amusement park,” Daniel Feller said. “This was the late ‘50s, and there she was, and there I was, marching in a picket line for integration.”
Many of those close to her remember her great sense of humor along with her ability to tell a good story. She was determined not to take anything, including herself, too seriously, and her stories always improved as she told them again and again, according to Daniel Feller.
“She liked the fact that when she was running for reelection for office, somebody called her (a) ‘Jewish mother with teeth,’ ” said Fred Feller, her eldest son.
Through the last years of her life, Feller stayed home for the most part but she kept her mind honed, whether it was through reading books or following politics.
“(She) still had a sharp and questioning intellect until the very end,” Daniel Feller said. “My mom was politically astute and really remained engaged, in that sense, long after she stopped doing anything.”
Feller was married to Boalt Law professor David Feller, who died in 2003. She is survived by her three sons, her daughters-in-law, three granddaughters and her grandson-in-law.
“They were both a joy, simply a joy, and represented something in Berkeley that seems to be sort of missing,” Dean said of Feller and her husband. “We seem to have so much anger now rather than what Gilda and David worked for.”
There will be a memorial gathering for Feller on Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Brazilian Building in Tilden Park.