Richmond remembers Barbara Vincent, lifelong advocate for city parks and shoreline
on November 5, 2012
“We come together in grief,” said Pastor Dan Damon as he opened a memorial service Friday for Barbara Moore Vincent — but the day brought few tears. Instead, Vincent’s family and friends laughed and joked at the Richmond Yacht Club as they celebrated her long, rich life as a sharp-witted muckraker and tireless advocate for Richmond.
Vincent, who helped create public access to miles of Richmond shoreline and served nearly three decades as a board member for the environmental group Save the Bay, died peacefully on September 24, surrounded by family in the afternoon sunlight, said David Vincent, the third of her four sons. She was 96.
Born at Ferry Point in 1916, Barbara Vincent attended Richmond High when it was one of the only high schools in the region. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from UC Berkeley in 1937 and rack up a dizzying list of political and social accomplishments.
She urged the development of numerous “Penny Parks” for children in Richmond after the population boom of World War II. She was the founder of the Richmond chapter of the League of Women Voters in 1948 and worked on numerous political campaigns from the school board to the Senate. From 1957-1969, she served three terms on the Richmond Planning Commission – including one as its first female chair – and helped draft Richmond’s first-ever Master Plan.
Vincent also got involved with the Save San Francisco Bay Association, now Save the Bay, shortly after it was created in 1961, and helped it give rise to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which served as a model for environmental conservation agencies across the country and “basically kept people from filling in the Bay and turning it into a river,” said her son David Vincent.
Above all, though, Barbara Vincent campaigned relentlessly for public access to the 33 miles of Richmond’s shoreline that were almost entirely owned by private industry in the 1950s. Vincent and her late husband are credited with spearheading the creation of many of Richmond’s coastal access points, including Point Isabel, Point Pinole, and the Bay Trail. Thanks to these efforts, six acres along Marina Bay were named the Barbara and Jay Vincent Park in 1997.
“My mother always had a saying,” said David Vincent, who gave the first of the afternoon’s seven speeches. “It went, ‘Get off your duff and do something!’”
It’s a fitting motto for a woman who belonged to a group of community activists known in the 1950s and ’60s in Richmond as the “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Speakers Jean Knox and former Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin, though, said the women “weren’t old” and “were always dressed properly” while campaigning vigorously for public parks in Richmond.
“When they spoke, people listened,” Corbin said.
City Councilmember Tom Butt, who spoke to the crowd about Vincent’s achievements and his time working with her on the Richmond Planning Commission, said, “She never stopped pushing as long as her health allowed. ‘Tom,’ she’d say, ‘we need to get this done.’ And you never said no to Barbara.”
Several speakers shared stories of Vincent’s life that echoed this sentiment – including some of her less illustrious moments. “The time my mother smacked someone, at the time a county supervisor,” David Vincent said, to chuckles, “It was about the Wildcat Creek flood control plan. He suggested she didn’t know what she was talking about.” He paused. “That was the wrong thing to say.”
Guests perused photographs from Vincent’s life and exchanged their own memories of her over the lunch that followed, which included Vincent’s “secret recipe” for macaroni and cheese, according to her son David – bread crumbs, garlic, and pine nuts.
“I cut my teeth on public affairs thanks to her,” said Barbara Langlois, the mother of Richmond City Council candidate Marilyn Langlois, who lived in Richmond until 1968 and was a member of the League of Women Voters alongside Vincent. “She’s done so much for this community.”
Vincent had a “biting wit and sharp mind that she devoted to Richmond and we are grateful,” Rosemary Corbin said. “Our quality of life is better because of her efforts.”
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