Alba Witkin, a civic activist and humanitarian who donated millions of dollars to educational and legal causes, passed away in her Berkeley home December 26, at the age of 95.
A member of the League of Women Voters, first in Sacramento and then with LWVBAE, for more than 70 years, Alba has been engaged in civic affairs for almost all of her adult life. When LWVBAE presented her with our “Spirit of the League” award in 2009, Alba spoke of her work with the League as a young woman who, in gloves and hat, lobbied the Legislature in Sacramento on behalf of League issues, and then decided to enter politics herself, in a winning campaign (and subsequent re-election) to become one of the first elected members of the Sacramento Board of Education when the process was changed from appointment to election
Alba was born in New Jersey in 1919 and moved with her family to California in 1929. She graduated from Fresno State in 1941 with highest honors, as valedictorian of her class. She went on to receive a master’s degree in Public Personnel Administration from Stanford, and went to work with the State Personnel Board in Sacramento.
Her first husband, Carl Kuchman, whom she married in 1946, passed away in 1967 and she was occupied from the 1940’s until she moved to Berkeley in 1978 with a multitude of civic projects that included serving with the Governor’s Conference on Juvenile Delinquency; on the commission that revised the Sacramento County Charter; as president of the Sacramento Civil Service Board, and on the California Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. All while raising her three children on her own.
In the late 1970’s, Bernard Witkin, considered by lawyers as the state’s pre-eminent legal scholar, became widowed, and mutual friends of his and Alba’s designed to have them meet and, it was hoped, marry. The scheme worked and Alba moved to Berkeley in 1978. Soon afterward the Bernard E. & Alba Witkin Charitable Foundation was established. Alba’s primary activity after their marriage became administering the Foundation, funded primarily by royalties from Bernie’s extensive legal writings, publications, books, and treatises. The generosity of the Foundation kept music alive in the Berkeley public schools system, helped provide affordable housing and food for the needy, supported general and refugee studies, funded mental health services, and supported projects for peace, social justice, and human rights. There was an emphasis on supporting non-profits that benefited disadvantaged and at-risk children.
Bernie passed away in 1995. Since 2005, the California Judges Association annually awards the Alba Witkin Humanitarian Award to honor a judicial officer who is making a difference outside of the courtroom.
Alba’s compassion and commitment to civic betterment has been admired and appreciated throughout her long and productive life, and the League has been fortunate that she chose to be involved with us since early in her civic career.
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