Donald Foley, campus professor emeritus in department of city, regional planning, dies

Donald Foley, a campus professor emeritus in the department of city and regional planning, died in his home Jan. 27 at the age of 99.

Foley retired from UC Berkeley in 1979 after having taught on campus for 26 years. He died seven months before he would have turned 100 years old.

Born in Hamilton, New York, in 1916, Foley grew up near Colgate University, where he studied sociology and political science. After graduating from Colgate, he received a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in sociology from Washington University in St. Louis.

Foley’s social science background brought a diverse perspective to the department of city and regional planning, a field that was just emerging when he began teaching at UC Berkeley. He was instrumental in developing the urban planning department, according to a 2003 Regional Oral History Office interview, and friends also noted his kind and considerate nature.

“That giving, adjusting and making everything comfortable for everyone else, especially his family, really characterized him,” according to Marvin Cohen, a campus professor of physics.

For Foley, teaching urban planning to his students is analogous to teaching anatomy to medical students: Although urban planners may aim to change how a city functions, they must first study and thoroughly understand its complexity.

Foley, as a former city planner, especially cared about the campus, its buildings and the students, Cohen said.

Since 1956, Foley belonged to the Little Thinkers group at the Faculty Club. The small group of 10-12 senior faculty and retired faculty administrators meets regularly to discuss topics as diverse as history, physics and the university.

The members of the Little Thinkers club only have to follow two rules — any topic is open to discussion, but only one person can speak at a time.

Foley particularly adhered to the single-speaker rule of the Little Thinkers, according to campus professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese, Charles Faulhaber.

“Whenever we would start to have multiple conversations, (Foley) would harumph and say ‘Oh no, no, only one person talks at a time,’ ” Faulhaber said.

Cohen, a Little Thinkers member, said he remembers Foley as a genuinely generous person whose giving qualities toward everyone set a very high standard.

“People use phrases like this quite casually, but I really mean it — he’s one of the nicest people I ever met,” Cohen said.

John Rasmussen, another Little Thinkers member and professor emeritus in the College of Chemistry, also expressed his admiration for Foley, describing him as “principled” and “just what a good friend would be.”

Cohen said Foley remained engaged and interested in current affairs even as he grew older.

Foley attended Little Thinkers meetings until about one month before his death, according to Rasmussen, even after he stopped driving nine years ago.

Foley is predeceased by his wife, Katharine, and sons Tom and Bill. He is survived by daughters Margot Sheffner and Judy Foley.

Contact Patricia Serpa at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pserpa_dc