Meade on a sailboat
Ken Meade. Courtesy of his family

Kenneth A. Meade of Berkeley passed away very peacefully on March 29 at the age of 84. His daughter Kelley and son Tyler were by his side. Ken is also survived by eight grandchildren, great grandchildren, plus extended family members and friends around the world. Throughout his life, Ken fought for what is right, saw the beauty and goodness in others, and made friends wherever he went.

Meade in a suit in an old phoot
Ken Meade. Courtesy of his family

Born in 1938, the son of Madeline Arnold and Kenneth Jack Meade, Ken grew up in what was then a working class part of Sausalito. The family lived in an “ark” that his father built on tidal land. It was a community of simple structures and boats tied to shore and used for living quarters. He enjoyed sailing on Richardson Bay in a sailboat his father built for him. Both his parents worked in the Marin shipyards during WWII. Later, his father worked as an administrator at San Quentin State Prison. Ken’s early exposure to poverty and to racial inequality informed his future career in law and progressive politics.

He attended public schools in Marin County where he excelled academically and athletically. While on athletic scholarship at UC Berkeley, Ken played basketball, baseball and football. He would later play as a backup quarterback in the 1959 Rose Bowl.

Ken attended UC Berkeley earning degrees in political science and law from Boalt Hall. While at Cal, he met Sharon Gilberd (now Sharon Gillin), who would become his wife and the mother of his two children. While they would eventually divorce, their admiration for one another endured.

Upon graduating in 1964, Ken set up a law practice in Oakland. After a few years in practice, he grew restless. His keen interest in politics led him to run for California State Assembly. In 1970, Ken won a seat in the 16th assembly district representing Berkeley and North Oakland, a district that had never before elected a Democrat.

Read Meade’s oral history

A passionate progressive serving in the state legislature from 1971-76, Ken served on several important committees, including chairing the Transportation Committee and sitting on the Criminal Justice Committee, where he was a strong opponent of the death penalty. He also successfully fought for funding for public education and prison reform. He served as a delegate in 1972 at the Democratic National Convention in Miami, joining Willie Brown and the Democratic leadership. After leaving public service, Ken continued his legal practice and taught law at and served as Dean of John F. Kennedy School of Law.

In his later years, Ken lived a simple yet romantic and active life. A lifelong sailor, he called a small sailboat his home. He rode around Berkeley on his bicycle, visiting his many friends, new and old. Highly principled, he loved to engage others in intelligent discourse regarding ethics, history, and current events. He remained athletic and graceful. An avid golfer, he relished the multiple hole-in-ones that he landed over the years and, more recently, his score of 83 on his 83rd birthday — capped off with an “eagle.” Loved by so many in our community, he will be missed.

A celebration of life is planned for 2 p.m. on Aug. 4. Please contact the family for details by emailing