Al Wasserman, prominent Berkeley community leader, died Nov. 7 surrounded by family in Oakland at age 92, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Wasserman, former president of the Berkeley-Albany chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, was also a lawyer, engineer, husband, father and grandfather, according to Wasserman’s son Steve Wasserman. He was the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who came to New York in the 1920s. He later became involved in social movements in Berkeley.
“My father… would sometimes spend nights in the Black Panther Party’s national headquarters on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, seeking by his presence, along with other attorneys of like mind, to try and prevent unprovoked police attacks,” Steve said.
Steve said his father was supportive of his own activism.
Steve recalls being a teenager during the “magnetic pull” of Berkeley activism in the 1960s and participating in activism efforts at Berkeley High School with the support of his father — co-leading a student-strike that led to the creation of the first African American studies and history department at a public high school in the nation.
Steve noted the balance his father was able to cultivate has inspired the way he lives his own life, as his father encouraged him to be well-rounded.
“My relationship with my father was one of mutual respect, constant love, and I would say that all my rebellions as a teenager and young man were against larger more impervious institutions never against my parents who always sought to put wind in my sails,” Steve said.
Wasserman graduated from The Cooper Union in New York with a civil engineering degree. He then spent time as an engineer at Bechtel Corporation and was transferred to their headquarters in San Francisco in 1963, which was when the Wasserman family settled in Berkeley.
Not long after, he became a lawyer and later president of the Berkeley-Albany chapter of the ACLU.
Wasserman and his wife were together since they were 14 years old and camp counselors at Camp Kinderland where Steve said “their love blossomed.” The Wassermans have been involved in the camp ever since.
Steve said he admires how remarkable of a man his father was while also being modest and humble.
“My father was possessed of a sunny disposition. He was a pragmatic idealist. I think if you were to set a glass of liquid in front of him — it was half full rather than half empty,” Steve said. “He liked to solve problems, he was endlessly curious about how the world worked, he was suspicious of the powerful and the privileged, he was opposed to corruptions and greed wherever they presented themselves and he sought constantly to help, however modestly, to create a more just and equitable world.”
Wasserman is survived by his wife of 70 years Ann Dragoon, his younger sister Dorothy, his three children Steve, Rena and Sherry and eight grandchildren.