Joanne Kowalski, 1938-2011

By Nancy Holland
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:09:00 PM

A neighbor's chalk on sidewalk tribute to Joanne reads " to be smart is fine, to be kind is better, to be both can be divine." 

Joanne grew up with her brothers Len, Joe and John in Michigan. Her father worked in the New Deal and UAW, and served as speaker of the state assembly. After receiving a Phd in psychology, Joanne and her husband moved to Utah where he taught. Joanne taught and did research and became chief psychologist at the University Medical School before moving to Berkeley. 

Clearly, Joanne had found her community. She settled on Roosevelt Street and immersed herself in the events of the day. When University Without Walls failed she went to New College of San Francisco for her law degree. She had become convinced she needed to understand the law of the land better. 

While she patched together a livelihood doing legal research, grant writing and taxes, her real work was living and nurturing life. Her interests were wide-ranging and she was always open to considering something new. She participated in the Early Music Society, was on the board of UA Housing, helped with homeless programs and neighborhood newsletters. She listened to peoples stories and troubles for hours on end often turning a crisis into a social event as well as offering relevant advice. When she had an opinion, or others solicited hers, she wrote an article and sent it to the Planet. 

A neighbor declared Joanne the kindest person she had ever met. She bestowed her compassion on plants, animals and people. Another neighbor commented that he loved watching Joanne weed because she always sat on the ground, as though being in and of the garden was more important than clearing it. Joanne painted and had great enthusiasm for Latin art as well as cultural and political activities generally.She personally practised her commitment to justice and freedom in her daily life. Many people and projects benefitted from her encouragement. She could always be counted on to inject her own style, ideas and ideals into conversations. She wanted to live life on her terms and encouraged others to do the same. 

Over the years Joanne shared her home with many people. Her friend Arnoldo was with her to the end. 

On hearing of her passing one neighbor drew him self up and announced firmly "Joanne Kowalski - Presente. "