OAKLAND (CBS SF/BCN) – Veteran Bay Area journalist Gail Berkley-Armstrong died Sunday at the age of 74 after a long battle with an undisclosed illness, according to her former employer the Sun-Reporter.
Berkley-Armstrong was the daughter of late Oakland attorney and Oakland Post founder Thomas L. Berkley. She became the editor of the Sun-Reporter newspaper in San Francisco for 16 years following 32 years as her father's assistant at the Oakland Post. After her father died, the paper was sold in 2004 to Paul Cobb.
"Gail was an institution in Bay Area journalism," Rep. Barbara Lee said in a statement.
"She wrote about and lifted up the Black community for decades, including as the editor of the Oakland Post and most recently at the Sun-Reporter. "I spoke with her earlier this year on the centennial of the Tulsa massacre, and as always, her questions reflected her deep insight and her compassion for the subjects she covered," Lee said.
"She was a voice for our community. One of her many accomplishments was the sister city agreement between Oakland and Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana, which helped to provide fresh water and sanitation to children there," she said. "My heart is with everyone who is mourning this loss today. May she rest in peace and power."
Sun-Reporter publisher Amelia Ashley-Ward called Berkley-Armstrong "a quiet genius."
"One of the best things I did in my life was to hire Gail Berkley," Ashley-Ward said.
She uplifted the lives of African Americans across the country and gave them a voice, Ashley-Ward said.
Former syndicated columnist Sandra Varner, founder of Varner PR Agency, submitted stories to then executive editor Berkley-Armstrong. Their relationship would last for 33 years.
"Gail felt kind of like a sister," Varner said.
Varner never saw Berkley-Armstrong angry, a sentiment shared in some way by others.
"She was always a picture of grace," Varner said. "Pomposity was not a part of her."
Brenda Knight, a motivational speaker and founder of the women's empowerment group Ladies in Red, counted Berkley-Armstrong as a sister, too.
Friends for about 30 years or more, Knight said Berkley-Armstrong had a "still and quiet strength," which is something she gave to others.
"If I was giving empowerment, she was giving empowerment to me," Knight said.
Berkley-Armstrong could simply do that with a smile, at least with Knight, she said.
A former two-term trustee of the Peralta Community College District, Knight called Berkley-Armstrong a community person, who believed in the Oakland community and students.
Former Oakland Post account executive Patricia Saunders, like others, described Berkley-Armstrong as quiet but strong.
She wouldn't come in hot," Saunders said of her experience working for Berkley-Armstrong.
"She would listen to you," Saunders said. "And then she would speak her mind."
Saunders worked for the Oakland Post for a short time, but the two women became friends and stayed that way.
Berkley-Armstrong was a "quiet spirit, but she meant business," Saunders said.
Surviving her are her husband Ray Armstrong, sisters Theon C. King, Miriam Rhea Berkley, and a host of other relatives. The family did not announce a date for a memorial service by press time.
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