Pat Cody, Bookstore Owner, Pioneering Feminist Health Activist

By Anthony Cody
Friday October 01, 2010 - 01:13:00 PM

Longtime Berkeley resident, bookstore owner and health activist Pat Cody, age 87, passed away on Sep. 30. She was born in 1923, the fourth of what would be ten children borne to Rosalia and Jack Herbert (eight would survive). Her father worked for the railroad as a station agent, so the family scraped by through the depression. She enrolled at Willimantic Teachers’ College around 1940, and also worked at the Electric Boat Company helping to build submarines for the war effort. She became more politically aware, and eventually went to New York City, enrolling at Columbia University, where she got her Masters degree in economics. And there, following the war, she met a dashing West Virginian veteran, who shared her interest in politics. Their activism earned them a knock on the door from the FBI, so rather than “name names,” they packed up and drove to Mexico City. Fred enrolled in the Universidad de Mexico, and the two of them were part of a lively ex-patriot community. They attended social gatherings at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and met luminaries like Pablo Neruda, who declared that Pat’s lemon meringue pie was the best he ever had! 

Around 1955 the McCarthy era had cooled a bit, so the couple moved to California, first living in Palo Alto and then moving to Berkeley. Fred’s political past made an academic position out of reach, so he and Pat started a small bookstore on the north side of UC Berkeley. The first store was just a hole in the wall, about the size of a living room. After a few years it was clear that the action was on the south side of campus, so the store moved into an old grocery store on Telegraph Ave. A few years later the more modern store was built on the corner of Telegraph and Haste, which housed the business until about five years ago, when it closed. 

Pat served as the business manager for the bookstore, making sure the bills and payroll got paid. The store was one of the largest independent bookstores on the west coast when they sold it in about 1977, to Andy Ross, who ran it for the next thirty years or so. 

Pat had a great many other interests as well. She was a founder of Women for Peace, and marched weekly in the mid-1960’s to protest the gradually escalating war in Vietnam. She put her talents as a bookkeeper to work as the treasurer for the Berkeley Free Clinic, which she and Fred helped found in the late 1960s. If you visited Berkeley in the late 1960s, you would be greeted at every corner by a young person holding a little locked box that said Berkeley Free Clinic on it. Donations of change were divided between the collector and the Clinic, and the change wound up on our dining room table every Sunday night, where we kids would help count it and roll it up. 

In 1971 she discovered that DES, a drug she had taken to prevent miscarriages, during her pregnancy with her first daughter, Martha, caused serious reproductive damage to the children that were in utero when the drug was taken. Pat investigated more, and learned there were millions of women in similar circumstances, and very little public information available. She founded an advocacy group, DES Action, to raise awareness around this. The group took on the task first of educating the women and men directly affected. Then, they discovered that doctors also needed to be informed – and medical researchers as well. And also policymakers, so that further research and public awareness could be funded. This group eventually grew to include chapters in more than 30 states, and international affiliates, serving as a model for many other health advocacy groups. Pat served as the program director and then newsletter editor from 1977 to 2010, and remained active until her death. Pat was like a mother to the thousands of DES daughters and sons around the country, providing them with information, resources and support. 

After her husband Fred died in 1983, Pat realized that there were few support groups for those living with the devastating grief from losing a partner or close family member. She founded the Grief Support Project and created a model that paired a trained counselor with a layperson who had coped with such a loss to lead groups for those recently widowed or otherwise grieving. 

More recently, she helped found a group called Grandmothers Against the War, which has once again raised a voice of conscience. She has also been an active member of a Women’s Scholars group, and has published two books; Cody’s Books, The Life and Times of a Berkeley Bookstore, and DES Voices, From Anger to Action. 

Pat was the center of a very lively family scene. She raised four children, Martha, Anthony, Nora and Celia, who all follow in her socially active footsteps in one way or another. Her grandchildren, Alexander and Rowan, Chris and Anthony, and Celia and Patrick, all spent many happy hours at the “ancestral manse” on Fulton Street. She was recently blessed with two great-granddaughters, Maile and Gianni. Her home was often a gathering place for relatives, including her siblings and their children. Her daughter Celia lived with and helped care for her for the past few years. 

Even in her death, she found a way to advance the healing of others, as she and her children worked with her doctors and the recently formed Palliative Care Team at Kaiser to end her life with dignity. One of the team members said that this process had been a powerful inspiration to the team, and would serve as a model for others. 

Pat met every challenge in her life with a similar response – gather others around you who face similar challenges, and work together to make change. She built community and never worried about who got the credit. She will always live on in our hearts and in the ways we model our lives on her. 

She is survived by her brothers Robert, Hugh and Paul Herbert, and her sister Mary Michaud. 

Memorial services will be open to the public, and held at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct. 30, at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA 94704 

Donations can be made in her name to DES Action: