Beth Cobb O'Neil
Beth Cobb O’Neil, who died on May 22, 2014
Beth Cobb O’Neil, who died on May 22, 2014

Beth Cobb O’Neil (née Elizabeth Ellen Pendleton), of Berkeley, California, a respected educational administrator known for pioneering minority admissions policies throughout her long career, died on May 22 at age 79 in Jackson, Wyoming from the effects of vascular dementia.

In the early 1960s, when a request went out to the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay seeking volunteers to work with disadvantaged youth in North Richmond, Beth was the only member who was not afraid to go. She quickly became an active volunteer for Neighborhood House in North Richmond, a program that motivated junior high youths to achieve higher academic levels in school and to assume leadership roles in community affairs. She was deeply touched by the young adults who were impacted.

Thus began a long career devoted to social justice and equal access to educational opportunity for young people of all backgrounds.

Beth believed education was the most effective means for creating economic and social justice. In addition to Neighborhood House, Beth worked for the Educational Opportunity Program at UC Berkeley, and ran the San Francisco Foundation Scholars Program. She was integral in the early years of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program, an academic preparation and enrichment program for underrepresented students in math, science and engineering. Her program ideas included key elements that make MESA a model for the nation almost 45 years later. In 1970, Beth was honored with the San Francisco Foundation Award for outstanding community service, commitment, and inspired leadership.

From ca. 1970 to 1976, Beth served as the Dean of Admissions at Mills College in Oakland. From 1976 to 1988, she was the Director of Admissions of Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, working tenaciously to diversify the law school classes. Beth was committed to helping law schools find innovative and legal ways to create a diverse student body in the face of increasing challenges to Affirmative Action.

To further this work, in 1988, Beth took a position as the Director of Member Services for the Law School Admissions Council, the national organization that administers the LSAT. Her primary role at LSAC was overseeing test policies to help level the playing field for students of all racial and economic backgrounds. She held strong opinions about the biases inherent in the test and the admissions process and worked closely with pre-law advisors and law school admissions officers around the country to minimize these biases.

Beth will be remembered for launching the LSAC Diversity Initiatives Fund, supporting national and regional prelaw advisor associations, and advocating for and mentoring countless law school admissions professionals.

Beth was born in Stockton, CA on April 20, 1935 to Broughton “Penny” and Doris Pendleton. She was raised in Oakland and Lafayette, CA. Beth attended Acalanes High School in Lafayette, CA and in 1954 received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was a member of Delta Gamma Sorority.

Beth and Miles Alan “Al” Cobb married in December, 1954 in Orinda, CA. They lived in Moraga, CA and later in Berkeley with their three daughters. Although Beth lived in Bucks County, PA, for almost 15 years, she spent most of her life in the Bay Area, where one of her greatest joys was looking at the view of the San Francisco Bay from her home in the Berkeley Hills.

Beth was preceded in death by just seven months by her long-time partner and, in her words, “the love of her life,” Kay Alfred Dana. She is survived by three daughters, Jennifer Cobb (Maurice Obstfeld, Berkeley, CA), Melissa Cobb (Silver Lake, CA), and The Rev. Mary Erickson (Bruce Erickson, Jackson, WY), and her five beloved grandchildren, Jeremiah and Samuel Kreisberg (Jennifer), Lena Golia (Melissa), and Adele and Oscar Erickson (Mary). The second of five children, Beth is also survived by her three sisters, Ann Skram, Jane Miller (Michael Holler), and Margaret “Penny” Pendleton, and one brother, Gurdon “Gus” Pendleton (Maggie Ikeda), and eight nieces and nephews.

Beth left a strong legacy of educational justice and was greatly loved and admired by people across the country who report that her unwavering support was invaluable to their success. Beth worked tirelessly throughout her life and bestowed on her children and grandchildren a strong commitment to hard work and social justice.  Beth made a difference in the world, and she will be dearly missed.

Please join us at a memorial service for Beth Cobb O’Neil on Saturday, July 19, 2014 at the Alumni House at UC Berkeley. The service will begin at 2:00 p.m., followed by a reception. (Find directions at the Alumni House online.)

Online condolences may be left for the family at the Valley Mortuary online.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Beth Cobb O’Neil Scholarship Fund at Boalt Hall or in Beth’s name to the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program.

To make a donation to the Beth Cobb O’Neil Scholarship Fund at Boalt Hall, donate online or send checks to Boalt Hall Alumni Center, 2850 Telegraph Ave., Suite 500, Berkeley, CA  94705-7220, attention Stephanie Deaner. Whether online or by check, please note it is for the Beth Cobb O’Neil Scholarship Fund.

To make donations to MESA, please note that the donation is being made in Beth’s name.

Feel free to leave your memories of Beth Cobb O’Neil in the Comments.

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