San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Michael Stephen Lesser
Michael Lesser, a San Francisco resident for 54 of his 84 years, died peacefully at home in the early morning of March 29. Diane Ross, his love and partner of 46 years, was by his side. Michael grew up in Newark and Queens. He recieved his undergraduate degree from Franklin and Marshall College and attended graduate school in Political Science at Syracuse University. While at Syracuse he helped form a local chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and actively fought housing segregation in the school dorms and surrounding community. In 1963, just before taking his oral exams for his PhD, he dropped out and went to work for CORE In Louisiana. Michael stayed with CORE for four years, eventually becoming the Mid-West Regional Field Secretary. He was jailed 11 times, the last time for three weeks under a charge of criminal anarchy, a capital offense. He left CORE when the white staff were asked to leave and moved to San Francisco during the summer of love. He eventually went to work for U.C. Berkeley Extension where he worked for 25 years programming classes in photography, humanities, and wine studies.
Michael served as statewide president of the Citizen’s Action League and on the national board of its affiliate (then) Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). He served as board president of the social-justice oriented Eye Gallery and was on the national board of the Continuing Educator’s Association, always fighting against the trend toward business education and for meaningful, life-enhancing studies for regular people.
Although not terribly coordinated, he took up running in his 40’s and completed three marathons and several half-marathons. He loved trains and when he had meetings on the East Coast, often took the train to get there and back.
Michael had a life-long passion for jazz and spent hundreds of evenings in clubs in NYC and at Keystone Corner and other clubs in SF. He was embarrassed that he once saw Miles Davis at the Five Spot and Miles went home with his date; others thought this a badge of honor. Michael had many other passions, including fine stereo equipment, cameras and BMWs (always purchased used), fine food and wine, politics, travel, baseball, history, samoyeds, photography, theater, music festivals, the poetry of Langston Hughes. Although born of humble means and always in a humble earnings category, he gave generously to non-profits he cared about and always insisted on shopping at locallyowned small businesses no matter the extra cost. He was on a first name basis with everyone who worked at stores and restaurants he frequented.
His whole adult life he called people out on their racism and he acquired his first “No human being is illegal” t-shirt in 1991. He remained committed to his progressive ideals, in action and at heart, his entire life.
Michael was brilliant, funny and incredibly kind-hearted. Although he suffered from dementia in the years before his death, he was still enjoying life, following politics and watching old movies. He is survived by his nieces and nephews, Ken and Peter Godwin, Lily Kurtz, and Mark Rosales, his brother-in-law Ed Godwin, and Diane, the love of his life.
Contributions can be made in his memory to the SF Food Bank or PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support).