Victor Garlin. Courtesy: Family of Victor Garlin

Victor (Vic) Garlin, esteemed professor, lawyer, and restorer of vintage Jaguars, died on Feb. 26 at age 87, surrounded by his loving family. The cause was acute leukemia. 

Garlin was born in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 18, 1935, where his father was a foreign correspondent of the Daily Worker. The family returned to the United States when Garlin was 3. Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Garlin attended Public School 93 and Joan of Arc Junior High. He completed Stuyvesant High School in three years and matriculated at UC Berkeley in 1952 at the age of 16. 

At Cal, Garlin was politically engaged in campus activities and national movements including Students to Combat McCarthyism, the Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee, the student political party SLATE, and the Free Speech Movement. Garlin wrote for the Daily Cal newspaper and was on the editorial board of Root and Branch, a short-lived journal of radical scholarship.

During undergraduate and graduate years, Garlin lived in the student housing co-operative at Oxford Hall. He credited the co-op with making it economically feasible for him to be a college student. Garlin stayed on at UCB to earn a Ph.D. in Economics, which led to teaching and research positions at the University of California at San Francisco and at UCB’s School of Public Health. 

In 1970, Garlin became an Assistant Professor of Economics at Sonoma State University. He created and taught two courses in radical economics that were very popular with students: Power and Freedom in the American Economy, and Economic Encounters and Humanistic Values. Although politically active on campus, and a teacher of radical economics, Garlin was awarded tenure in 1974. Garlin taught at Sonoma State for 37 years, often commuting from Berkeley in one of the vintage Jaguar cars that he painstakingly and joyfully restored in his backyard garage. 

Victor Garlin. Courtesy: Family of Victor Garlin

In 1977, Garlin was appointed to the California Health Facilities Commission and elected as chair that same year. When he left the commission in 1982, he was honored with a joint resolution of commendation by both houses of the California Legislature. At age 45, in 1980, Garlin became a student at Hastings College of the Law. He was a member of the bar from 1984 until 1997. In a judicial externship at the California Court of Appeal he occupied the chambers of the late California Supreme Court Justice Matthew Tobriner.

Starting in 1987, Garlin drew on his combined expertise in economics and law to teach classes at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, including Legal Environment of Business and Social and Political Environment of Business. He was asked back as a visiting professor for 17 consecutive summers, while continuing to teach full time at Sonoma State and leading the Sonoma chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA). Garlin was also active in the United Professors of California. After his retirement from Sonoma State in 2007, he maintained membership on the board of the Emeritus and Retired Faculty and Staff Association (ERFSA). 

Garlin shared his deep appreciation for music with his family and communities. He came of age at Camp Woodland (a civil rights-oriented summer camp in the Catskills) where he learned the left-wing folk canon on guitar. He spent many Sunday afternoons in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square park where the folk scene was taking shape. While a graduate student, Garlin began studying classical cello and auditing the master classes that Pablo Casals offered in Berkeley in the 1960s. For years, Garlin hosted chamber music in his home on Monterey Avenue where he played the cello within a quartet of friends.

In his retirement, Garlin was an active member of the Berkeley Student Cooperative Alumni Board, returning to the same organization that had provided him housing when he was in college. Over lunches with current co-op students 65 years his junior, he relished dialogue and shared stories of 1950s campus life that were often met with incredulity. Ever a learner, Garlin opened to new perspectives while staying true to the core convictions that guided him throughout his life. 

Victor Garlin. Courtesy: Family of Victor Garlin

Garlin was always working on a car. He had a knack for acquiring vintage Jaguars that were diamonds in the rough and restoring them to car-show condition. He enjoyed driving his 1950s-era British racing green XK150 drophead coupe around Berkeley, in a tweed cap, greeting friends old and new. Garlin’s prodigious memory for people, dates and events was recognized by the many who asked him to speak about shared history at celebrations and memorials. His delight in conversation, keen interest in people and their stories, and generosity in helping people out of trouble will be missed by colleagues, family and dear friends all over the world. 

Victor Alan Garlin is survived by his beloved wife Marjorie, married since 1970, their two daughters Amy (m. Richard) and Rachel (m. Laela), his half-brother, Alex Garlin of Boulder CO, and five adored grandchildren: Rose, Vivian, Nate, Theo and JJ. 

There will be a memorial in Berkeley on Sunday, April 30. Please email Rachel Garlin at for details.

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