Barbara Graves

Graves—Barbara Graves, 104, on December 22, 2017, at home at the Redwoods Retirement Community in Mill Valley, Calif. Barbara was born on May 27, 1913, in Geneva, N.Y., the youngest of seven children. Following college in North Carolina, she worked for the 1939 World’s Fair and then for the British War Relief Society, where she learned about the Red Cross, for which she directed the Rest and Convalescent Homes Division in England beginning in 1942, being awarded a (rare for civilians) Bronze Star for providing recovery furloughs for Allied airmen in 1943–45. She began exploring pacifism and Quakers after her return, and starting in 1948, for five years she administered American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) neighborhood centers in occupied Germany to provide food, shelter, and community.

In 1953, with a master’s in social work from Columbia University, she became a psychiatric social worker in Philadelphia, Pa. In 1962–68 she directed AFSC’s Voluntary International Service Association (VISA) program in Tanzania, Haiti, Guatemala, and India. During 1969, as the black social work environment was developing strength and influence despite segregation, she consulted and taught at the Atlanta University School of Social Work. She taught at Temple University in 1971 and then moved to University of California, Berkeley in 1972 as director of Field Studies in Social Work. She continued paid and volunteer work for U.C. Berkeley, Alameda County, and the City of Berkeley after retiring officially from Berkeley in 1978.

A member of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, she was a leader in Northern California AFSC, often consulting to solve organizational problems. She volunteered weekly in San Francisco’s Tenderloin with residents on the margins of society. Opposing U.S. military activities in Nicaragua, she traveled with other religious activists to learn about conditions and to protest, and in 1986 she returned her Bronze Star in a protest ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She often risked arrest in actions to oppose U.S. wars in Central America and the Middle East. As Brinton Visitor for Pacific, North Pacific, and Intermountain Yearly Meetings in 1989, she visited widely, contributing her energetic, inquiring spirit and experience.

In 1993 she and her close friend and housemate, Glendora Patterson, began co-parenting infant Nia Marie, who became Glendora’s adopted daughter and Barbara’s goddaughter and brought great love and joy into their lives. As she approached her 100th birthday, she said to a friend that she didn’t want to live to be 100, because then she would just be remembered for being 100. Nonetheless, one of her favorite quotes was from Abraham Lincoln: “I have an irrepressible desire to live till I can be assured that the world is a little better for my having lived in it.”

She continued to start each day by searching the news for wrongs that needed righting, and when she did reach 100, she and Glendora attended Nia’s college graduation. She lived at the Redwoods during her last years, as did three steadfast friends from her Red Cross service days in England. She expressed her wit and joy of life not only through work, but through singing, dancing, generosity, and love for people of all sorts and conditions. Strawberry Creek Friends will miss her decades-long spiritual and practical service.

She is survived by her adopted family, Glendora Patterson and Nia Graves Patterson.

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