Remembering My Little Old Lady Friends

By Charles Smith
Friday December 29, 2006

During my lifetime I’ve had several Little Old Lady Friends who might be of interest to the readers of my memoirs. 


Emma Packard 

Mrs. Packard was the widow of Walter Packard. They had both graduated from Iowa State in 1911. He was an economist and soil expert. He was the first administrator of the Ag experiment station in the Imperial Valley in 1912. Their daughter, Emmy Lou, studied under Diego Rivera in Mexico. 

Later he was the head of the Marshall Plan in Greece. He changed Greece from a primitive country to a modern one. Edward R. Murrow did a program on it. They retired to Berkeley in 1948. Here he founded the California Powers Users Association. 

For several years I was his chauffeur who took him various laces. He invited friends to the UC Men’s Faculty Club for Saturday luncheon session to discuss current issues.  

When Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico, Diego Rivera was in San Francisco. He hid out in a little office building in the rear of the Packard’s house, as he feared they might be after him too. 

Mr. Packard had an accident from which he never recovered. She lived at the Shattuck Hotel where she had a refrigerator in her room and got some meals from the hotel cafe.  

I took her to the Berkeley Co-op grocery store on Saturdays for several years. Their co-op number was 224, from the 1930s. 

She began to fail and the family moved her to a nursing home in Napa. 


Ilsa (Fuchs) Brieger 

I met Mrs. Brieger at a conference on Ombudsmen at the Claremont Hotel, where we were the guests for three days of a Foundation in New York which was holding such conferences all around the country. (They were refugees from Germany. A brother was a professor at Stanford). 

Following that conference Mrs. Brieger collected signatures in front of the Co-op on an initiative to have a City Ombudsman, which passed handily. She used to volunteer in the Ombudsman’s office. 

The problem was that the first Ombudsman was a law student who studied on the job and angered the City Council. So they put it on the ballot to abolish the Office. The Daily Cal cams out with a headline mistakenly saying to vote “Yes.” 

After the election, she still went to the office. She said the phone was ringing off the wall from persons with problems they wanted help with. 

I saw Mrs. Brieger once a week, cleaning off her roof on Keith St., planting Leonatic bushes, taking her to Kaiser, etc. 

She had only one eye and had poor depth perception. She bumped the fence a the LWV parking lot, bumped three cars in the Safeway parking lot, sideswiped a city truck. She ran into a tree and was injured so badly she passed away soon afterward. 


Erna (Prather) Harris 

She had grown up in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Her father was a supporter of Ghandi and stood in front of the jail all night to keep a prisoner from being lynched. 

She went to Wichita State in the 1930s while it was still segregated. Her first year she won a national award for her writing. After graduating she tried to start a newspaper, but the advertisers boycotted her. 

She then went to work for a Los Angeles paper, wrote a column opposing the evacuation of the Japanese. Westbrook Pegler attacked her, and the FBI investigated her. 

She visited C.O.s in prison who were there for refusing to dig holes and then fill them up. She was active in the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, and visited Russia. 

She came to Berkeley to be near KPFA. Here in Berkeley she ran the Bias Press printing shop. She lived in the Co-op housing at the corner of Sacramento and Addison. She was on both the Co-op and Book Unlimited boards at different times. 

I ran a clipping service for her and Laurie Sisson, her partner. I took her shopping on weekends. She was about to go blind. 

A support group was formed by Dr. Taller of Kaiser while she lived in a nursing home on Ashby Ave. After she died, a large group of persons held a Memorial Service for her. 

I sent a collection of writings about her and her obituary to 77 Afro-American colleagues so that students everywhere would know what a wonderful woman she was. 


Catherine (Janes) Webb  

The Lady of Albany Hill 

I used to give Catherine Webb rides home after meetings. I mentioned once that she should do her memoirs. She took me up. She had four large file cabinets full of her family history. 

I ended up going to her place every Sunday night for two years to help with the account she was writing. Mostly I just sat and listened. It was given to the Bancroft Library. 

She had quite a story to tell. 

Her family came from Massachusetts. One grandfather had been the editor of the Nevada City Democrat newspaper. He died during a fire at the paper when he went back in to rescue some papers and a wall fell on him. 

The other grandfather was a red neck who hated Chinese. He was a carpenter who built structures for gold mines. He later was mayor of Stockton, and finally a stock broker in San Francisco. 

Her mother grew up in San Francisco, married a miner who took her to Canada where they had to melt snow for water. 

Later her father was shot and killed by an irate workman in Mexico. 

So her mother came back to Nevada City to live on the family farm with the four children. 

Catherine Webb graduated from Cal in 1929. She married a physicist who worked at a refinery in Emeryville. He caught the commute train from the bottom of the Albany Hill. 

He did experiments on heavy water in the basement there on Albany Hill, became an alcoholic and moved to Buckskin, Nevada. 

Catherine Webb wrote several books, self-published several of them. She is honored by the Albany Library, and part of it is named after her.