Former City Councilmember Betty Olds dies at age 96

Former City Councilmember, longtime Berkeley resident and community leader Betty Olds died on July 16. Olds was 96.

Olds served as City Council representative for district six, covering the northeast Berkeley Hills, for 16 years, a role in which she became known for her fair judgment and sharp wit. Olds also served on the Zoning Adjustments Board and Berkeley Library Board and as an elected Rent Stabilization Board member for more than 30 years.

“Betty always spoke her mind and embraced people of all political perspectives,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a press release. “Berkeley has lost an icon.

During her time as a council member, Olds reacted to the devastation of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Hills fire by fighting for, and successfully bringing to fruition, a fire station on the edge of Tilden Regional Park. She also renovated the Berkeley Rose Garden, which was originally created by the Works Progress Administration.

When Olds retired in 2008 at the age of 88 “with all her marbles intact,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of her departure, “Berkeley’s City Council will lose its crankiest, wittiest and often most rational member tonight.”

Today, the Berkeley Hills has a path named after Olds, and the children’s room at the North Berkeley Public Library is also named after her.

Originally from Missouri, Olds went to Iowa State University, where she graduated with a degree in home economics in 1942.

Olds was known for her direct means of speaking on and solving issues — so much so that her knack for getting to the heart of a problem became known as “Bettyisms.”

One notorious example of a “Bettyism” came when construction of a synagogue faced opposition; constituents claimed it could harm salmon in a nearby creek. Olds replied, “The only fish around here is the red herring.”

Olds made national news in 2007 when, in her late ’80s, she and two other women climbed a campus oak tree to protest plans to eliminate the grove.

She was also an early and active member of Save the Bay, a group that fought to prevent the San Francisco Bay from being filled in.

“Betty was a tireless advocate for Berkeley’s shoreline open space and for San Francisco Bay, and she remained active in these causes well into her nineties,” said Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who currently represents district six, served as Olds’ chief of staff and friend for the entirety of Olds’ term as council member.

“I consider her to be my very best friend,” Wengraf said. “She was an extraordinary woman.”

Olds’ is survived by her children, Colby and his wife Deborah, Lore and Marcia; and by her grandchildren, Mayacamas, Skyla, Olivia and Samuel.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.