Dick Meister: We’ve suffered a great loss

Pub date May 3, 2013
WriterDick Meister
SectionBruce Blog

She’s gone, Gerry, the love of my life, my dearly beloved wife for 57 years. It’s difficult at this time of deep mourning for me to think of Gerry except in the context of our long and extremely happy life together and great devotion to each other, difficult to think of Gerry as anything but a loving partner who shared my life for so long.

We met briefly while I was playing semi-professional baseball in Gerry’s hometown of Coquille on the Oregon coast in 1952, and again a few years later during a party at Stanford, where we were both students. I was introduced to her as someone who actually knew of Coquille.

Within two years, we were married. That came shortly after a lunch date at Tommy’s Joynt on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. We were earnestly discussing the merits of Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (remember him?} and savoring our beer and pastrami on rye when it suddenly popped into my head, and I blurted it out : “I think we ought to get married.” Gerry paused for just a moment. “Yes,” she said, “I think we should.”

But our relationship aside, let me don my journalist’s hat to objectively note that Gerry was long one of the key leaders in the often extraordinary efforts of active and retired teachers and other public employees to win, secure and expand their rights and benefits.

Gerry died in San Francisco on March 4 at 77 after a brief struggle with cancer.  She was most recently chair of the 900-member retired division of the local teachers’ union, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and co-chair of the Protect Our Benefits Committee (POB) that advocates for retired teachers and retired public employees generally.

Gerry was particularly effective in advocating for the local Health Service System (HSS) and insisting that it provide workers the health care they required. It was a very difficult task to which she devoted most of her time after retiring in 2001 from the social studies teaching post she had held with distinction at San Francisco’s Washington High School for nearly 40 years. She had taught more than 7000 students and generously mentored scores of new teachers. She was an activist member of the Silver Eagles organization of retired Washington teachers and of several neighborhood organizations.

She  played a major role in passing the ballot initiative that defined the HSS as a separate and thus much more effective agency in 2004 and went on to become a valued advisor to each HSS director and to the many retirees who sought her help

Gerry also was a leader in political campaigns involving ballot initiatives. She led the way to victory for several important worker-friendly measures and to the defeat of several that she and her fellow activists and their allies thought harmful to the general public as well as to teachers, students and retirees.

Gerry, who modestly described her work as “doing what needs to be done,” was an exceptionally popular teacher and leader. Her death drew dozens of messages from students, her fellow teachers and others praising and thanking her for her life’s work and for leaving behind an invaluable legacy.

They described Gerry as overwhelmingly concerned about others, always giving, but never taking; loyal; highly competent and knowledgeable, tenacious, dynamic, brilliant, truly inspirational.

Gerry’s work, conducted with integrity, grace, warmth and compassion, made her a force for truth and justice throughout her lifetime  and an inspirational guide for those who follow. We are fortunate she lived among us, and I am especially fortunate that she lived her extraordinary life with me.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Protect Our Benefits Committee, P.O.
Box 320057, San Francisco 94132, or to Gerry Meister Scholarship Fund, UESF
Retired Division, 170 Topeka Ave., San Francisco 94124.