Mark Haggitt, known as “The Mayor of Thousand Oaks” whose kind and generous spirit in helping neighbors – no matter how great or small the task – touched literally hundreds in the North Berkeley community, died unexpectedly in his sleep Dec. 30 in his Berkeley home, apparently of heart-related issues. He was 63.
“He always lent a helping hand,” said his son, Ian. “And he loved it here.”
With his tall frame and long, blonde hair, Haggitt was for decades a familiar figure in the neighborhood, whizzing around on his bike or holding court in a front-yard filled with eclectic art, chatting with neighbors.
After years as a salesman, he became a dog walker for the area, strolling with an assortment of furry clients, whistling for “Spike” or calling out to “Tatie.” But he also was the unofficial overseer of the area, welcoming new neighbors as though they were old friends, mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor, or helping out with a flooded basement. Or just stopping to talk to someone having a rough day with his calm, reassuring manner. And he did this on a daily basis.
Residents were not just neighbors or friends. They were part of a community he embraced as family.
He was sensitive and caring, with an astute instinct for both people and animals. Dogs who were fearful or finicky warmed up to him. He knew everyone’s name – canine and human – and, in many ways, served as the community’s social networker. He would introduce a newly arrived mother to other new moms, help arrange playdates for pups and share the latest happenings in the neighborhood. Exuding a genuine enthusiasm, he was always up for a good conversation about politics, art, psychology or any other topic, and often was seen conversing with a neighbor, a leash in his hand and dog by his side.
Haggitt was born on May 9, 1957, in Ontario, Canada, the younger son of Cynthia and John, who repaired clocks. At age 7, he moved with his family to Clearwater, Florida. After earning an undergraduate degree in business, he eventually met his wife, Onika, and the two married and moved to San Francisco. They settled in Berkeley and had a son, Zev. After they divorced, he had a long-term relationship with Catlin Adami and the two had a son, Ian.
For many years, he was a salesman for a haircare company, peddling shampoo and hair color to salons in San Francisco and the East Bay. Shunning cars and most technology, he always went by bike and public transit if necessary. For Mark, the best part of the job was meeting so many people. “What he loved in dog walking, he also loved in sales,” his son Zev said. “He enjoyed making connections and building relations. The ultimate goal was not to make a sale. It was to make friends.”
After he left the company, he found a new career in dog walking, which also allowed him time for kayaking – harkening back to his Florida surfing days and love of water– and tooling around on his bike.
More recently, as the dog walking gigs slowed, he poured himself into his art, creating murals with cans of paint and the street as his canvas. For many years, his front yard was a revolving display of his latest projects, a gallery of bits and pieces he would pick up off the street or at a garage sale – a broken statue, a stray tile, a smudged doll. “He saw beauty in everything,” said Ian’s mom, Catlin.
Circles of stones reflecting a Celtic influence were on one side of the yard and neat piles of wood, plates and metals on the other. His impromptu creations, sidewalk chalk drawings and orange painted house led to a 2016 profile of him in Berkeleyside.
He was immensely proud of his two sons, always attributing their success to their mothers.
As news spread of his passing, there was an outpouring of heartfelt response, as hundreds went online to express their sorrow. One neighbor said her dog liked Mark better than her. Another said one of her child’s first words was “Mark.” Still another noted how he treated everyone with respect and consideration. Several vowed to carry on his altruistic principles.
“He always found the best in every moment,” Ian said. Haggitt is survived by sons Zev of Seattle, Ian of Berkeley; his brother, John of Clearwater and John’s wife, Susan; and two nieces.
Memorial plans are pending. His family invites donations to those in need during the coronavirus.