Adrienne Harris remembered as dedicated educator, advocate

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Richmond remembers Adrienne Harris as dedicated educator, advocate
Photo of Adrienne Harris contributed.

By Mike Kinney

Influential former West Contra Costa Unified School Board (WCCUSD) member Adrienne Harris died a week ago after battling cancer. An informal memorial was held at her Richmond home on Sunday.

Harris served as a trustee on the West Contra Costa Unified School District school board from 1995 to 1999. She is remembered as one of the driving forces in passing the district’s first construction bond measure in three decades, leading to construction of LaVonya DeJean Middle School.

She was also a beloved math teacher who served in the WCCUSD for 22 years. She’d previously taught the subject at the International Studies Academy in San Francisco.

From 2008 to the present, Harris was an active member and former chair of the Richmond Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She advocated for bike lanes, believing bicycles should be an alternative for transportation in urban cities like Richmond.

For over 40 years, Harris was also a software engineer, designing and implementing software for Silicon Valley corporations.

She graduated from Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, PA and received a BA in computer science from U.C. Berkeley.

“She fought for things she strongly believed in,” Former Richmond Mayor Nat Bates said. “She was direct and frank, she would let you know where she stood on an issue. She was an outspoken fighter. She was known throughout the community for lending her support to other people’s causes. She was a leader and supported causes she believed in.”

Robert Rogers, district coordinator for Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, said the last time he’d spoken with Harris, she was “upbeat and sunny as I ever had heard her.”

“She said she accepted her diagnosis and was determined to live each day without fear,” Rogers said. “I’ll never forget her bravery. “

Former Richmond Mayor Tom Butt commended Harris’ service on the WCCUSD board.

“She did a good job while serving on the board,” Mayor Butt said. “She was very transparent and always responded to her constituents which I admired. She was a big bicycling advocate as well.”

Her passing “is such a loss to Richmond,” he added.

Many other community leaders spoke out in the wake of Harris’ death. Here are some of their comments.

County Supervisor John Gioia: “Adrienne passionately fought to improve education for all youth in West County especially for students of color. She was always at the forefront of efforts to achieve true equity for all students. Her voice will be missed.”

Former WCCUSD school board member Charles Ramsey: “Adrienne and I worked hand and hand on the first construction bond measure to ensure it would be successful. She will be missed. She was a great friend.”

Publisher of Radio Free Richmond Don Gosney: “Adrienne was a dedicated member of our community. Although she was well accomplished in the tech industry, she spent countless years working as a public-school teacher for minimal compensation. Adrienne also devoted four years to serving on the WCCUSD Board of Education during a time when the district was trying to rise up through the bankruptcy from only a few months earlier.”

City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Milam: “It is a sad thing to lose dedicated public servants, but the work they did lives on in the lives of the people they touched.”

Former City Council member Vinay Pimple: “Adrienne was easy to get along with, she was very straight forward. She was very rational and open minded having lived and traveled in so many countries. She was not narrow minded at all. I talked with her about what she was going through with her cancer on her own, she was very straight forward about it. She accepted what was happening and would share her feelings and hold nothing back.”