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Gabrielle Morris, who chronicled California state politics and community history during a thirty-year career at the Regional Oral History Office died on April 24 after battling ovarian cancer for more than a decade. She was eighty-three.
Gaby was ROHO's specialist in state government history. Coming to the office in 1970 to interview for the Earl Warren gubernatorial oral history project, she later planned and directed major projects on the gubernatorial administrations of Edmund Brown, Sr., Goodwin Knight, and Ronald Reagan. Her legacy in this area includes well over two hundred in-depth oral histories documenting critical aspects of government administration and policy, from fiscal management, to land use and water resources, to health, education, and welfare issues. Gaby's other subject area at ROHO was social and community history. She was responsible for a remarkable series of forty oral histories examining the development and impact of Bay Area philanthropic foundations, from 1936 to 1980, as well as a number of memoirs of volunteer community leaders.
Although she interviewed state and national leaders, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, perhaps her favorite project was one recording the life experiences of ten outstanding African-American graduates of the University of California from 1914 to 1960. This group included educator Ida Louise Jackson, Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson, California Supreme Court justice Allen Broussard, and Olympic gold medalist Archie Williams. Her book, Head of the Class: An Oral History of African-American Achievement in Higher Education (1995 Twayne Publishers), used excerpts of those interviews to portray the life of black college students in a predominantly white public university, before the sweeping social changes of the civil rights era.
Gaby, a 1950 graduate of Connecticut College in economics, got her first professional experience as an historian for the US Air Force, when she documented the 59th Air Depot Wing at Burtonwood Air Force Base in England shortly after the Berlin Airlift. After returning to Connecticut, she and a college friend piled their belongings into a station wagon and headed for California in 1954. After a meandering six-week journey fueled by peanut butter and apples, they arrived in San Francisco on a rainy November night, stopping first at the home of a friend where Gaby met Frank Morris, who she would marry two years later. They lived in Berkeley for fifty-six years.
Like many women of her era, Gaby put her career on hold while she raised three children and immersed herself in the PTA, League of Women of Voters and local politics in Berkeley. ROHO soon became the beneficiary of all of her community experience, political savvy, and wisdom.
Gaby is survived by her husband, children, Catherine, Patrick and William, beloved granddaughters, Becca and Sara, and her cat, Duster, who will be colder now without her favorite lap.
Donations in Gaby's memory can be made to Connecticut College, Friends of the Berkeley Public Library or the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Plans for a memorial service are pending.
--by the Morris family and Ann Lage