A grid of photos of people who've died. In one a man is pinching his mustache. In another, a woman is dancing in a creek like a bird. In another, a man has a goofy face, a hat and a scraggly bow tie.
Berkeleyside obituaries honor the remarkable lives led in this city. Clockwise from bottom left: Christopher Catlett, Glenn Yasuda, Elder Sanders, Norma Hongisto and Patricia Bulitt. Courtesy of their friends and families. Photo of Bulitt: Martha Luehrmann

A Tilden Park ranger who hooted at owls and bent eucalyptus into jungle gyms. The first out lesbian in Israel’s legislature. A formerly unhoused woman who performed gospel songs for people protesting Caltrans sweeps. A longshorewoman who followed her mother Mable Howard into activism. A free spirit who danced in creeks and held storytelling tea parties.

Countless remarkable lives are lived in Berkeley, each leaving a mark on its neighborhood and community. Most residents never make the news, but they’re still important to the city’s history.

Since 2010, we have been publishing obituaries written by the family or friends of the deceased. This helps our newsroom and readers learn more about Berkeley’s history and provides a free service to loved ones.

Scroll down for details on how to submit a tribute to your late loved one

“We launched local obituaries early on at Berkeleyside because we knew it was a valuable service to our community and would help chronicle the story of our city through the people who make it tick,” said Tracey Taylor, co-founder of Berkeleyside and editorial director of its parent nonprofit Cityside. Berkeleyside’s sister site, The Oaklandside, recently started its own obituary program.

For decades, newspapers had robust obituary sections where readers could find detailed stories, written by experienced journalists, about neighbors and strangers alike. As the news industry has struggled, publications have cut costs, and deeply reported obituaries are often on the chopping block. To develop this series, we consulted with other journalists who’ve thought a lot about why obituaries matter.

“I think it’s really important that news organizations remember there’s no replacement for this,” said Kristen Hare, a faculty member at Poynter who writes obituaries for the Tampa Bay Times

“If we’re not telling the stories of the bodega owners and the piano teachers and the folk artists, they’re not getting told. I think it’s essential that local news organizations make space for our community members to get to know each other.”

Hare is an obit evangelist. Along with reviving the Tampa Bay Times’ feature obituary series, she completed a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute looking at the potential of reported obituaries to build community and new audiences. 

“Nearly every week, I feel like I’m writing a mini-history, a puzzle piece in understanding a place I’ve lived for years,” Hare told us. 

Residents can share obituaries for free

We share Berkeley residents’ stories by showcasing their impact on local communities, even if it means breaking from traditional journalistic and obituary norms.

For example, we regularly share pre-publication previews of obituaries with the friends and family of the deceased — a no-no in day-to-day reporting — and encourage them to suggest changes to headlines, layout and content. 

Unlike reporting breaking news, we don’t rush to get obituaries out, allowing grieving writers time to share their memories. 

Berkeleyside’s obituaries are published for free. Many news outlets charge families based on the length of the obituary, using them as a source of revenue.

“From the outset we also offered this service for no charge because we don’t want anyone’s story to go untold due to financial constraints,” Taylor said.

The news industry has undergone significant change and destabilization in recent years, and outlets are scrambling to stay open. But putting a price on submitting an obituary can lead to residents “getting hit with a $1,500 or $3,000 bill to share their story in a local publication,” Hare said. 

These costs limit who’s able to document their losses, Hare said. “When you look at paid obits, you see that the ones that are longer tend to be about white men.” In diverse Berkeley, we believe it would be inaccurate to preserve only the stories of residents whose families can afford it. 

“Death is monetized so strangely in this country,” added Berkeleyside Managing Editor Zac Farber, who now oversees Berkeleyside’s community obituary program. “People are dealing with so many logistics around their loved ones passing.” He said he often hears from obit authors who say it’s a relief to encounter a process that treats them “compassionately and professionally.” 

“We don’t charge, but we let people know they can support our work with donations,” and they often choose to, Farber said.

Berkeleyside’s community obit section is one of the longstanding features that the site’s readers have grown to love and count on — often highlighting key political and cultural figures from Berkeley’s storied past and beloved residents. 

For Farber, obituaries are journalism, like everything Berkeleyside publishes. In small, close-knit Berkeley, many readers will have had a big or small connection with the subject of an obit.

“There’s going to be hundreds or thousands of people here who knew them,” Farber said. “Their life is as newsworthy as anything we do.”

How to honor your loved one in Berkeleyside

If you’ve lost a loved one recently, you may be wondering how you can share your memory of them in Berkeleyside. 

We welcome submissions for all members of the Berkeley community, regardless of whether they lived in or were deeply connected to the city at the time of their death. If you would like to submit an obituary for someone to whom you are not related, we ask that you reach out to their family for permission before submitting.

If you want to honor your loved one, please email the text of the obituary and a photograph to editors@berkeleyside.org and provide a few additional details through the form below.

Thank you for trusting us with their stories. We’re honored to help tell them.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions? Email editors@berkeleyside.org.