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A gym floor with basketball markings is set up with round tables that people sit around. In the front is a poster with a closeup picture of a woman smiling. In the distance is a video screen where a person can be seen standing at a podium.

Community pays tribute to trailblazing Mayor Irma Anderson

on March 2, 2024

In a heartfelt gathering at the Richmond Auditorium Thursday night, the community came together to honor and celebrate the life of former Mayor Irma Anderson, who died of cancer on Jan. 28 at the age of 93.

Anderson was raised in Boston, earned a nursing degree at Cornell University, and the moved to the West Coast to get a master’s degree at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She came to Richmond in 1959, a time when many Black families were making the city their home.  

She served two terms on City Council from 1993 to 2001, before making history by becoming the first Black woman mayor of a major city in California, from 2001 to 2006. It was a post her husband, the late Rev. Booker T. Anderson Jr., had held three decades earlier. 

Dozens of people attended Thursday’s service, including Pittsburg Vice Mayor Shanelle Scales-Preston, who saw Anderson as a trailblazer. “This is important to have leaders that continue to break the glass ceiling. So I want to thank her for that,” Scales-Preston said.

At the entrance to the auditorium stood a poster of Anderson with the words of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, under her picture: “Service is the rent we pay.” Bouquets of flowers lined the stage, where a several people came to the podium to  talk about Anderson’s legacy 

“She set high expectations for herself, for her community,” said Katie Ricklefs, chair of the Contra Costa County Democratic Party. During her tenure as mayor, Ricklefs said, Anderson was governed by unwavering principles that guided her every decision.

Others spoke of Anderson’s commitment to service and education. She was particularly proud of her work to bring after-school activities to much of the city. The words “role model,” “community,” and “excellence” came up again and again from those paying tribute.  

Mostly, people said Anderson had a deep love for Richmond and fostered a sense of unity in the many leadership roles she served over the decades. Jaycine Scott, a Richmond Housing Authority commissioner, expressed a sentiment felt by so many, saying, “She was family.”

In a video shown at the end of the service, Anderson talked about her commitment to service. “As long as I have breath I will continue to pay my rent,” she said, referring to Chisholm’s famous quote.

Reflecting on that, Anderson’s son Ahmad, said, “That’s my mom, that’s who she is.”

(Photo by Juliette Piccoli)

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