David Tabb died Jan. 27 at his home in the North Berkeley hills, surrounded by family and soothed by our voices joined in song. He was 83.
Though David’s health had been declining since summer, his vitality, intelligence and kindness never left him, and a cancer diagnosis just two weeks prior to his death was a shock to us all.
David was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Oct. 11, 1939, to Ben Tabb and Rose (Lovins), both of whom studied law. David’s lifelong commitment to equity formed early; in his retelling, David’s father provided legal services to his community without discrimination, a rarity at the time.
After attending Antioch College and earning a doctorate in political science and government from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, David launched a teaching career with appointments at the University of Hawaii and Williams College. According to family lore, David knew he’d found his permanent home while crossing the Bay Bridge listening to jazz on the radio, and he lived in Berkeley for 50 years, halfway between the gourmet district and Tilden Golf Course. He always greeted visitors to his Regal Road home with a hug and a glass of wine.
David and his wife, Judith (Silverman), were active in Congregation Beth El and fostered a family of Afghan emigres via the temple in 2016; they’re now settled and thriving. David and Judith contemplated selling their home this past summer, but he sent an email at the 11th hour describing their decision to stay. “The bottom line is that I really enjoy living here,” he wrote.
David was chairman of San Francisco State University’s political science department when his book Protest Is Not Enough: A Theory of Political Incorporation was published in 1986. Co-authored with Rufus Browning and Dale Rogers, “Protest Is Not Enough” illuminated the importance of political coalitions in improving the lives of minority populations in Northern California.
He is survived by two children and four grandchildren from his first marriage, to Connie (Weisberg), and a son by Judith, whom he met through mutual friends and married following Connie’s death. Even as cancer robbed David of his stamina, Judith’s presence never failed to make him smile.
Their son, Jonah Tabb, and his wife Ali (Tarter) live in Indiana now but are relocating to Berkeley soon. David and Connie’s son, Kevin Tabb, lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with his wife, Caron (Skikne); their children are Shai Tabb and Noam Tabb. David and Connie’s daughter, Lisa Tabb, lives in Fairfax, California, with her husband Sam Silverstein. Their children are Aaron Silverstein and Meleah Silverstein.
All are heartbroken by this loss but heartened by our memories of David as a present and passionate husband, father, grandpa, father-in-law, and golf buddy. An expansive circle of David and Judith’s friends enjoyed attending the Strawberry Music Festival together, bar mitzvahs and book clubs, debates, and dips in their hot tub.
David and Judith own a cottage on Salt Spring Island and found great friends there, too. Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” captures David perfectly. He had a gift for forging deep and distinct relationships and made people from all walks of life feel loved.
David is preceded in death by Connie and his brother Herbie Tabb.
In accordance with his wishes and life’s work, donations in David’s honor can be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center or Congregation Beth El Homeless Meal Program.