Sylvia McLaughlin passed away January 19, 2016, less than a month after her 99th birthday. She and her husband, the late Donald McLaughlin, moved to the Berkeley hills in the 1950s. Sylvia was appalled to see that San Francisco Bay was being filled with garbage to increase land for cities around the Bay. Unhappy about the future of the Bay, she became a passionate environmental activist for San Francisco Bay — a cause that consumed her for decades. Generations of citizens and environmentalists whose lives she has impacted over the past 60 years now must say farewell to one of the great environmentalists of the 20th century.
Sylvia lived to see her much of her efforts come to fruition. With the help of two other women (Ester Gulik and Catherine (Kay) Kerr) they compelled Berkeley and other Bay Area cities around San Francisco Bay to stop the massive filling of San Francisco Bay occurring in the 1950s and 1960s. They did this through affecting legislation through their nonprofit organization, Save the Bay, which was wholly supported by small donations of $1, and later $2. They amassed the support of tens of thousands of Bay Area residents who shared their vision.
She, along with Gulik, Kerr, and Save the Bay, were influential in helping to create the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a regional organization that finally regulated fill along the bay margins. This law is still in effect and has been a model for other regions with major bays and waterways. But this major victory was never enough for Sylvia. At age of 90 she protested the cutting of trees on the University of California Campus and climbed right up into one of the big trees to make her point!
Although she was known as being tough and effective, she was always polite and courteous. Sylvia had a strong belief that the Bay Area needed shoreline parks so that people could truly experience and enjoy San Francisco Bay, and she continued to fight for shoreline parks from Vallejo to San Jose. In 2012, she was honored with the creation of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in Richmond, California. It was a wonderful tribute for one of the beautiful areas that she helped to save.
Sylvia always gave back. She served on the board of directors for the Resource Renewal Institute, as well as numerous other environmental organizations. Click here for Sylvia’s Forces of Nature interview.
Sylvia McLaughlin is survived by her two children and one stepson; four grandchildren and six step-grandchildren. Her husband passed away in 1985. Ester Gulik and Kay Kerr are both deceased. The Resource Renewal staff extends their deepest condolences to Sylvia’s family and friends.
A public memorial service will be held for Sylvia on Tuesday, February 2 at 4 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.