George L. Livingston '75, California's first elected African American mayor
Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle
A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday for George Livingston, Richmond, California's first elected African American mayor and one of the East Bay's most charismatic politicians.
Mr. Livingston died Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, at Doctors Hospital in San Pablo, CA, of complications related to diabetes. He was 78.
"No one could work a room like George," said his longtime friend and colleague, Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates. "He wasn't just a mayor for African Americans - people from all ends of the spectrum loved him."
Mr. Livingston grew up in rural Oklahoma and moved to the East Bay in the early 1950s with his family, who came to work in the local shipyards. He graduated from Berkeley High School and earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the San Francisco campus of Antioch College.
His first jobs were at the Mare Island shipyards and a Richmond paper factory. Most of his career was spent at Pacific Gas and Electric's regulatory department.
But Mr. Livingston's passion was politics, his friends and family said. He traced his political activism to the early 1960s, when he met Martin Luther King Jr., who was speaking at Contra Costa College.
"They had a very dynamic conversation," said Mr. Livingston's daughter, Grace Livingston-Nunley of Hercules. "My father was very impressed by how humble, how dignified Dr. King was."
Mr. Livingston became involved in a host of church, fraternal and neighborhood groups, running successfully for City Council in 1965. He served on and off on the council for nearly 30 years.
Richmond's mayoral job rotated among City Council members until 1981, when the job switched to an elected position. Mr. Livingston was elevated to mayor in 1985 when Mayor Thomas Corcoran died in office, then was elected by voters in 1989. He served until 1993.
During his years at City Hall, Mr. Livingston's priority was bringing jobs to town, Bates said. He helped land the Hilltop shopping center, a U.S. Postal Service bulk mail facility and a federal Social Security office, among other projects.
He was also known for his efficient method of running council meetings.
"These days meetings go till 2 a.m. Not when George was mayor," Bates said. "He let people talk, but he didn't take any guff. We were always done by 9:30 or 10."
Mr. Livingston's son, George Jr. of Antioch, said his dad could "charm a snake."
"He just lit up a room," he said. "He wasn't a perfect man, but he could make you feel like your life had a purpose. He knew how to inspire people."
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Livingston is survived by his wife, Eunice, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is to be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, 662 S. 52nd St., Richmond.