By Barbara Fluhrer
Dr. Maudelle Shirek, who held the distinction as California’s oldest elected official, has reached the century mark.
Shirek is a former Vice Mayor and served 8 terms on the Berkeley City Council. Mayor Tom Bates paid a tribute to Shirek for “advocating for the disadvantaged and downtrodden while she was a member of the city council”.
Traditionally local governments often honor former elected officials by naming buildings, streets or facilities in their name, after they pass away, but Shirek is still here to see the City Hall be renamed in her honor in 2007.
Born June 18, 1911, Maudelle Shirek, the granddaughter of slaves, was the oldest of l0, and grew up on a farm in Arkansas. As a young person she enjoyed cooking, assisted with the crops and went to school when she could. She won first place at the county fair for creating 33 separate dishes from tomatoes. These experiences prepared her for a love of food and led her to a life of concern for healthy eating. Later she cooked and delivered meals to people in Berkeley.
Known for giving definition to “progressive politics”, Shirek was presented with a Proclamation from President Barack Obama, delivered by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and with a Berkeley Proclamation from Councilmember Max Anderson.
Longtime friend Jesse Anthony, her campaign manager, and friend Mike Berkowitz and longtime friend Barbara Lupin, two sisters from Los Angeles, and nieces from the Bay Area were among the many who celebrated the occasion last week. The Vukani Mawethu Choir honored her with music.
She came to Berkeley in 1943 and married Brownlee Shirek. They fought together for integration and senior rights. She befriended Barbara Lee when Lee was organizing a student trip to Ghana and they took many trips together including Cuba and Czechoslovakia. Lee says, “Maudelle is my mentor and gave me my start in politics.” Lee visits her regularly and frequently attends The Church for Today, where Shirek has been a member for many years and continues to worship every Sunday. Shirek, still devoted to the late pastor, Rev. Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, applauds his “amazing leadership in this community and the world”. Shirek regularly attended William’s Today’s Artists/Four Seasons Concerts as long as she was able.
She was active in the anti war movement, displaying Peace signs on her home and car. She was a union supporter, founded 2 Berkeley Senior Centers, championed Aids/HIV awareness and helped organize the Free Mandela Movement. She helped create multiple City Commissions, including the Berkeley Commission on Labor.
Friend Jesse Anthony, who continues to take Shirek out for weekly lunch dates and church, said, “Maudelle is a remarkable woman who has set a high standard for us all.”