Police Review Board commissioner dies at 71

Vonnie Gurgin — Berkeley Police Review Board commissioner, UC Berkeley alumna, criminology expert and dog-lover — was pronounced dead Oct. 17 after she was found in her Berkeley Hills home. She was born in 1940.

Fellow Commissioner George Perezvelez describes Gurgin’s presence on the commission as simultaneously professional and personal. Perezvelez said Gurgin was both like the commission’s “grandmother,” prone to hugging commissioners upon entering meetings, and a no-nonsense and impartial professional who was always sure to bring the commission back to order if it dwelled for too long a time on a specific issue.

“She was very caring and very, very warm, and everybody loved her in the commission,” he said. “But at the same time, she was serious about the work she did, and she always kept everybody in check. I will miss her kiss and her hug and (her) telling me to be quiet.”

Gurgin, who was born in Ohio, made a permanent residence in Berkeley in the 1960s and completed her doctorate in criminology in 1969 at UC Berkeley. She was appointed to the commission in 2008 by Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

Friends describe a woman whose commitment to her community did not end with the city. According to Genevieve Dreyfus — a neighbor who knew Gurgin for years — Gurgin was an important member of Neighbors for Fire Safety,  a project that built a fire house in the Berkeley Hills in the early 2000s as well as an effort to ensure homeowners were represented in the city’s creek ordinance.

According to Perezvelez, Gurgin was also involved in her local Neighborhood Watch and was one of the founding members of the North Berkeley Hills’ chapter of Take Back the Night, an effort to reduce violence.

The Berkeley Police Review Commission held a remembrance for Gurgin at its meeting Wednesday evening. According to Kiran Shenoy, interim chair for the commission, the remembrance was meant to be a time to reflect on her service to the commission and say a few words in her honor. He said Wengraf will appoint Gurgin’s replacement.

Dreyfus described Gurgin as, beyond a provider of service to the community, a shoulder to cry on or someone to ask advice of, a fan of The Ohio State University’s football team, a woman who walked her dog twice a day and liked to read and a friend to ask for, among other things, help with computer issues.

Dreyfus said Gurgin never married but has family in Ohio, adding that the two spent Thanksgiving and Christmas together and liked to attend Cal Performances shows and see California Shakespeare Theater performances during the summer.

“I will remember her as somebody very wise, very smart, keeping to herself but very even,” Dreyfus said.