Sharp, in a tucked-in collared shirt with bulging pockets and dark jeans wearing a backpack and holding onto a fern with many more ferns behind him.
Jim Sharp. Courtesy: Tom Kelly

Jim Sharp, a longtime Berkeley resident and community activist, lost his 17-month battle with cancer on April 18.

James Michael Sharp was born in Whittier, California, on Aug. 15, 1943. His great-grandfather, James Meikle Sharp (1844–1932), migrated across the Plains from Ohio to Oregon in 1852. He came to Southern California in 1876 and established a fruit ranch in Saticoy (Ventura County) that is still owned and operated by his descendants.

Jim’s paternal grandparents met in Berkeley as students and married in 1912. His father and elder aunt were born here. Later they returned to Ventura County, where the grandfather, Leslie Theodore Sharp, founded his own fruit ranch in Santa Paula.

Jim graduated from Occidental College, where he majored in economics and played water polo. He obtained an MBA from UCLA before moving to Berkeley in 1969 to study for his Master of City Planning degree at Cal. His working career included stints as a municipal finance consultant, resource economist and database publisher.

A lifelong athlete and avid hiker, in middle age Jim developed a passion for botany. He planted a large garden of California native plants, volunteered at the Native Plant Society, and attended many botanical workshops and field trips. In 1974, he met his life partner, with whom he traveled widely and enjoyed art films and eclectic music.

During his 53-year residence in Berkeley, Jim lived in proximity to the University of California campus, an area he came to call the Institutional Blight Zone. An unsung hero, for over 30 years he was seen on the streets surrounding the campus practically every dawn, removing trash, uprooting weeds and abating graffiti.

Jim was a neighborhood leader and a staunch supporter of preservation. He was a veteran of many local battles waged to keep the Gown from swallowing the Town. He contributed generously to a wide array of nonprofit organizations, many of them connected with nature, information, and humanitarian causes.

A Mass in Jim’s honor will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 23, at St. Ambrose Church, 1145 Gilman St. A private interment and memorial will take place on the Sharp family ranch in Santa Paula.