Theodore Neff

Neff—Theodore Neff, 97, on February 1, 2017, at University Retirement Community in Davis, Calif. Ted was born on July 11, 1919, in Marion, Ohio. During World War II he was a conscientious objector who served first in a Civilian Conservation Corps doing hard labor and then at a school for mentally disabled adults. He attended Otterbein University, where he met his wife-to-be Almena Innerst, called Mena. In 1947, the family moved to California to be closer to Mena’s family, and Ted pursued his career in education. He was a teacher, principal, and administrator at schools in Costa Mesa and Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He spent countless hours throughout his life volunteering in organizations and groups dedicated to peace and justice, not without sacrifice: during the McCarthy era he was fired from his Costa Mesa school principal position when the school board learned of his membership in the interfaith peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation and his efforts to secure minority housing in Orange County neighborhoods.

In 1964 he and his family moved to Davis for his work in the State Department of Education in the brand-new Bureau of Intergroup Relations, whose formidable task was to identify and remediate California public school racial segregation. In tone of his most rewarding jobs, he worked tirelessly up and down the state with school districts, school boards, parents, and teachers through the 1960s and ’70s, to bring about racially and ethnically balanced schools. He was the principal author of many important desegregation plans, including those for large school districts such as Oakland and Berkeley, small rural districts, and even Indian reservations. The bureau’s work was so effective and innovative that in 1970 he was invited to Washington, D.C., for a one-year loan to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was saddened by the bureaucracy that prevented him from achieving all of his goals in this area.

Steadfastly committed to nonviolence, peace, social justice, and opposition to capital punishment, he was one of the field secretaries of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in 1980. He worked with FCNL for many years and attended the annual meeting in 1989 as a General Committee member. On many Saturdays, during the time when his health permitted, he could be found at the silent peace vigil in Davis organized by Davis Meeting. He also lobbied for many years against gun violence and capital punishment at both the state and federal levels.

Ted was preceded in death by his first wife, Almena Neff; a son, Timothy Neff, and a daughter-in-law, Deborah Neff. He is survived by his wife, Paula Neff; two children, Michael Neff (Carol) and Cathy Neff; six grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

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