Al Wasserman. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

May 27, 1930 – Nov. 7, 2022

Al Wasserman died at the age of 92 under a blood moon in Oakland on Nov. 7. He was surrounded by his wife, Ann, and his three children, Steve, Rena and Sherry. 

Al was a noble and principled man who led an extraordinary life, married to Ann Dragoon for more than 70 years, boyfriend and girlfriend since they were 14 in the Bronx. The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Solomon and Rebecca, who came to New York City in the early 1920s, his father was an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. They lived in the workers’ cooperative housing called the Coops, built in the late 1920s in the Bronx. His first language was Yiddish and he learned English on the playgrounds of the public schools he attended. He went to Cooper Union and studied civil engineering and came out West to Oregon, with his pregnant wife in 1952, to take a job with the Oregon Highway Department building the road from Mt. Hood to Portland. 

He grew up and came of age, as did his younger sister Dorothy, in the radical secular world of Jewish progressives. Both he and his wife were counselors at Camp Kinderland in upstate New York — their parents were too poor to secure spots for them as campers — where their love blossomed.

In 1963, they came to the Bay Area and settled in Berkeley. Al was working for Bechtel Corporation in their hydroelectric division, believing that clean energy for the masses was a project worth defending. Little did he suspect that decades later many of those dams he helped build would be dismantled so the salmon could run again.

In his early 30s, growing restless and not a little bored, he convinced his employers to foot the bill so he could become a lawyer, attending the University of San Francisco’s law school by night, working at Bechtel’s Beale Street headquarters by day. And, not least, helping to raise, with Ann, three young children.

Al never brought his work home. He joined the family every night for dinner at 6 or 6:30. He was an extraordinarily disciplined person, possessed of an iron will. He was meticulous, thorough, responsible, and he never seemed to break a sweat. These were attributes he exhibited throughout his long life. He was decisive to a fault, unencumbered by regrets. He was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. 

He was also wise: Once when his son Steve was about 16, aware that a colleague of his father had been appointed president of Bechtel while Al was only a vice-president, he asked him why he wasn’t head of the company. Al said he didn’t want such a job. Steve was flabbergasted. President sounded much better to his ears than being a mere vice president. Al explained that he saw what happened to the driven men who hungered for such positions. They were obsessives, hostage to work, who had no time for their families or their wives and mostly ruined themselves with drink and early death. He wanted no part of it. He didn’t believe his being was synonymous with the work he did and while he enjoyed it, he had, he said, many other interests.

He became a lawyer and went on to become, for a time, active in the National Lawyers Guild, helping the Black Panther Party resist unprovoked attacks by police, and served as president of the Berkeley-Albany chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He died as he lived — with an enviable unsentimentality, a becoming humility and modesty, an abiding dignity and self-possession, deep attachment to what is beautiful and joyous about life, bottomless curiosity about the cosmos and how it works, an ardent advocate of a more just and equitable world, and an unblinking devotion to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In lieu of flowers, the Wasserman family requests that you consider making a contribution to Camp Kinderland at