Berkeley city clerk dies at 37

Berkeley City Clerk Deanna Despain, known for her upbeat and warm personality, was found dead in her home Jan. 7. She was 37.

Despain died after apparently falling down the stairs in her house, though the official cause of her death has not yet been determined, according to police.

MaryAnn Forlain, who attended high school with Despain in Utah, remembered her incredible energy and her overwhelming efforts to go out of her way to bring people together.

“You really had to give it to her,” Forlain said. “Every four to six months, she’d make an effort to drive from California to Salt Lake and make it a point to invite everybody and just gather loved ones around and talk to people and relax.”

Despain, who was born on May 14, 1974, and attended The University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College, had worked as Berkeley city clerk since 2008 and held a number of positions in the city’s government  starting in September 2004, including records manager, assistant city clerk and deputy city clerk.

Those who worked with her remembered her for the strong personality she brought to local government, moving up quickly in rank.

Pamyla Means,  who kept in touch with Despain after she retired from her position as Despain’s predecessor, attributed Despain’s success to her powerful and positive attitude.

“She became my go-to person,” Means said. “She had an attitude of ‘How can I help you?’ and she permeated that through the city clerk’s department. And because of her incredible talent — very bright — she quickly rose to become the city clerk.”

Upon becoming city clerk, Despain devoted herself to making local government transparent and available for citizens, said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross.

The city clerk is responsible for carrying out a number of vital functions for the city, including running elections and documenting all City Council actions.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin credited Despain with moving Berkeley, “into the 21st century in terms of using technology to make information more available to the public.”

He added that Despain spent countless hours converting meeting minutes, records and resolutions into readily accessible electronic formats. Despain also implemented the city’s first ranked-choice voting system in November 2010.

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli remembered Despain as someone who was extremely dedicated and hard-working but still very flexible and open to change.

“She had two great qualities,” Capitelli said. “She was very professional, but she was also someone who could have a sense of humor and understand that not everything was dreadfully serious as we sometimes have a tendency to have in Berkeley.”

Despain is survived by her husband, Andrew Dickson, and their 10-month-old baby, Adele.

Jaehak Yu covers city government.