Mary Ellen Fine. Courtesy: Family of Mary Ellen Fine

Mary Ellen Fine, a resident of Berkeley for more than 50 years and a stalwart community leader and supporter of music and the arts, died peacefully at home on Jan. 7, 2023, at age 85, surrounded by her family and loved ones. The cause was the sporadic form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, an extremely rare brain disease diagnosed in December.

Born Mary Ellen Fox in Indianapolis, she grew up in the small southern-Indiana town of Washington, where her mother, Emma Louise, and father, Robert F. Fox, Sr., a pharmacist, owned and operated a local drug store. Mary Ellen was always proud to call herself a “Hoosier.” (The origins of that nickname for Indianans remain unclear, but as Meredith Nicholson has written, “Many generations of Hoosier achievement have endowed the term with connotations that are strong and friendly.”) She graduated from Washington High School, where she played clarinet in the school band, sang in the Girls Chorus, and was a member of the Beta Club, a national honorary scholastic society for students with top grades.

Mary Ellen was a graduate, along with more than 20 extended family members, of Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education and was elected vice president of the Delta Gamma sorority. (She stayed in touch with her sorority sisters and participated in reunions for more than 40 years.) She soon headed for California, taking a position teaching second grade at Monte Vista Elementary School in Lancaster. After meeting him on a blind date arranged by friends, she was married to Timothy Fine, a graduate of the University of Virginia who was stationed as an officer at nearby Edwards Air Force Base, in 1960; he died in 1990.

Tim’s matriculation at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall (now Berkeley Law) took the couple to the Bay Area in 1962, where Mary Ellen continued her teaching career at Dover School in San Pablo, where she also led the 4th grade chorus. Their family grew with the birth of three girls in seven years: Margaret, Susan and Rachel. In 1972 the couple purchased a 1920s house in North Berkeley, which for five decades would remain the center of Mary Ellen’s rich and varied life. She quickly took on the project of restoring it, occasionally alarming her family with her propensity to climb tall ladders and fix gutters and roof tiles herself.

A competitive doubles tennis player, she was a regular at the Berkeley Tennis Club beginning in the 1980s and continued playing until age 80. One of her cherished achievements was earning her way to compete at the 1986 4.0 USTA/Volvo Tennis League National Championships in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mary Ellen Fine. Courtesy: Family of Mary Ellen Fine

Classical music was a steady presence in her home for decades, first as her daughters studied music and later when her best friend, Patty Brown, led a piano studio in the living room and her grandchildren took up piano and cello. Mary Ellen served on the boards of the Junior Bach Festival and East Bay Music Foundation and was a founding subscriber to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra as well as a longtime supporter of the Crowden School in Berkeley.

She served as Board Secretary and Property Manager at the Berkeley Piano Club and helped oversee an effort to restore its building that was recognized with a 2006 award from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. She was also a member of the Town and Gown Club in Berkeley.

Returning to school in her 50s, she earned a Certificate in Graphic Design, with Distinction, from UC Berkeley Extension in 1999. She was also a skilled cook and gardener; a dedicated reader and member of book and film clubs in Berkeley; and a fan of British crime dramas, the Golden State Warriors, and, always, the Hoosiers of Indiana University.

Mary Ellen is survived by her three daughters, Margaret Fine of Berkeley; Susan Fine of Redmond, Washington; and Rachel Fine of New Haven, Connecticut; her son-in-law Matthew Horvat (Susan) and her grandsons, Alex and Matteo; her son-in-law Christopher Hawthorne (Rachel) and her granddaughters, Willa and Adelaide; her brother, Robert F. Fox, Jr., and sister-in-law, Mary Eunice Fox, of Waterford, Michigan; and her sister, Martha Nell Fox, of Annapolis, Maryland.

Donations may be made in her honor to the Berkeley Piano Club.

Mary Ellen Fine. Courtesy: Family of Mary Ellen Fine