Longtime Berkeley educator Marian Altman, remembered for generosity, dies at 84

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Miyako Iwata/File

Marian Altman, a longtime Berkeley public school educator, died April 23 at the age of 84.

Altman was fiercely committed to her work as a teacher at the Berkeley Unified School District and was beloved by students and family members alike, according to Barbara Ziony, Altman’s cousin. Altman was also the namesake of the Marian Altman Library at John Muir Elementary School.

“Marian was so focused on her teaching,” Ziony said. “Even when she retired, she was always doing something in the library.”

Born in New York, Altman first moved to Berkeley after completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Ziony said.

Once she moved to California, Altman began working as a substitute teacher at John Muir Elementary School, where she went on to teach sixth-grade classes. She eventually became the principal of Jefferson Elementary School, Ziony said.

“Marian Altman was truly a good person, deeply committed and fiercely generous,” said Becca Todd, BUSD’s library coordinator, in an email.

One of Altman’s classes — the sixth-grade class of 1967 at John Muir Elementary School — has remained especially close. According to Ziony, the cohort created a Facebook group to maintain contact.

Libby McLaren, a member of the class, said students admired Altman for her leadership and dedication to her “kids,” referring to Altman’s former students. McLaren added that the class of ‘67 had a 50th anniversary reunion in 2017.

“When you show up for kids, it really matters. And she always showed up,” McLaren said. “We all used to say, ‘Boy, when I grow up, I want to be just like Marian!’ ”

Besides staying focused on her teaching, Altman was “forceful with a sense of humor,” according to her daughter Lynne-Rachel Altman.

McLaren, who is a jazz performer in the Bay Area, added that Marian Altman attended as many of her shows as she could. At Marian Altman’s 80th birthday party, several of her former students were in attendance, and many also visited her when she fell ill, Ziony said.

“They would visit her in the hospital,” Ziony added. “I think that speaks to the fact that she was such a great teacher — that they wanted to keep in touch with her.”

The class of 1967 will dedicate a globe on June 1 to the Marian Altman Library in her honor, McLaren said. According to Ziony, the ceremony will be followed by a memorial service for Marian Altman at John Muir Elementary School on June 3.

Reflecting on Marian Altman’s impact on her students and the Berkeley community, McLaren said, “She taught us to stand tall in the world and to believe in ourselves.”

Contact Miyako Iwata at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dailycalmiyako.