A very close friend of my family, Patricia Walkup, died on June 9 of last year. She spent much of her last 15 years or so as an activist for improving her San Francisco neighborhood, Hayes Valley. Her (and her neighborhood’s) great triumph was the defeat of a plan to rebuild a Loma Prieta earthquake-damaged freeway overpass through Hayes Valley and instead create a beautiful, tree-lined street, Octavia Boulevard.
Patricia was one of the funniest, most joyful, and most irreverent people I’ve ever met, far from the stereotype of the tireless activist. Her activism was rooted in the simple idea that people should enjoy living in their neighborhood, as she did. I remember her giving my father and me an evening tour of her neighborhood once while assorted ruffians argued over drugs and broke 40-ounce malt liquor bottles in a nearby parking lot. Even then, she knew she could make her new home a better place as I wondered nervously if I would make it out alive.
Sometimes her efforts meant offending San Francisco leftists by demanding that police enforce laws against prostitution and drug use more vigorously. Sometimes it meant frustrating conservatives (or what passes for conservatives in San Francisco) by refusing to sacrifice the liveability of the neighborhood for the alleged economic benefits of a freeway overpass. She was happy to do both and as a result Hayes Valley is a much more enjoyable place to live now than it was when I first visited her in the late 1980s when she bought an apartment there.
Patricia’s brother, Lee, has commemorated his sister’s memory by moving a beautiful 1884 concert grand piano to the Cadillac Hotel, a non-profit single-room occupancy hotel in the Tenderloin where Patricia did volunteer work. You can read about it here. You can also watch local television news coverage (complete with corny news anchors) here.
Rest in peace, Patricia.