Genevieve Lewis Goldberg, better known as Gene, was a woman with a wonderful spirit, a big heart, and a strong personality. She was a loving wife, mother to two children and three stepchildren, grandmother to three grandchildren, a second grade teacher, a lifelong friend to many, and progressive activist throughout her life. Gene was born on September 6th, 1918, in Los Angeles, the daughter of Annie Shlachow and Frank Lewis. She passed, peacefully in her home in Santa Barbara surrounded by family, on June 19th, 2021, three months shy of her 103rd birthday.
Gene grew up in Los Angeles, went to Fairfax High and then onto USC where she majored in math. In 1941 just prior to graduating she left school, married Justin Slaff and went to work for the Union Oil Co. Justin enlisted in the Coast Guard and was stationed in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Gene went with him and while there worked for the Air Force. Transferred back to California, Gene worked first for a shipyard in National City and then in a defense plant in Los Angeles. Her daughter Marilyn was born in 1944. After Justin returned from serving in the war they settled in West LA. Gene and Justin became part owners of a wholesale china and glass business. In 1955 her son Geoffrey was born. Gene divorced in 1957 and found herself now a single mom with two children. In order to support herself and her family she decided to go back to USC and finish her college education. In 1964 she graduated with a BA degree in history along with a teaching certificate. Gene requested to teach in South Central LA and was assigned to a 2nd grade class at the Seventy Fifth Street Elementary School located in a poor neighborhood where she was the only white teacher. It didn’t take long for Gene to show her colleagues, her students and their parents that she was a teacher full of love, support and commitment, quickly becoming a popular member of the school and neighborhood communities.
Gene met Murray Goldberg at a meeting of the local chapter of the Parents Without Partners organization, which she helped start. They were married in 1965 and Gene inherited three stepchildren, Stephen, Michael and Nicole. Gene continued to teach at the Seventy Fifth Street Elementary School until 1977 when she and Murray retired and moved to Santa Barbara. During her time as a teacher Gene won numerous accolades including a Teacher of the Year award for her efforts pushing for school lunch and breakfast programs, parent teacher meetings, and home visits. Upon her retirement in 1977 Gene received the Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation from then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley recognizing her 13 years of “outstanding efforts and accomplishments”.
Throughout Gene’s entire life she was active in politics and fighting for progressive changes. When she saw something wasn’t right or people were being treated unfairly, she rolled up her sleeves to do something to rectify the situation whether it was direct action or by helping to elect candidates she felt would push for the right legislative solutions. During her early years in LA and while at USC she was active in the American Peace Mobilization organization, co-chaired the campus Inter-faith Council, was chair of the Young Democrats Club. When she moved to Santa Barbara she got involved in various non-profits like the Homeless Coalition, the Rape Crisis Center, the Environmental Defense Center, the Fund for Santa Barbara Grant Making Committee, and the Legal Defense Center where she was the Board chairperson for two years. A long time progressive liberal, Gene was on the board of the Democratic League and the Democratic Women. She served as chair of the Democratic Women in 1986 and was chosen as the Democratic Woman of the Year in 1987. In 1989 Gene and her husband Murray, received the Network’s Tenth Annual Community Service Award. She also worked with the Women’s Political Caucus and the Tenants Union. Gene was well known as Jack O’Connell’s campaign mother; she nurtured hundreds of campaign workers in many campaigns, giving continual support and sustenance. She was an original member of the Oversight Committee for the SB County Jail Inmate Welfare Fund for education programs, and in-house counseling and in 2001 received the Sheriff’s Community Spirit Award from the SB County Sheriff’s Department and was also recognized by the California State Senate and State Assembly.
Gene was a great lover of food. She was a fantastic cook always looking to try new and interesting recipes to add to her ever growing list of “standards”. A family tradition was Gene cooking whatever the person celebrating their birthday wanted for their special dinner. More often than not the chosen meal was barbequed spareribs, baked beans and her famous cole slaw. She loved to entertain and would cook for days preparing food for parties or political events for dozens of people. Going out for dinner or lunch was something she loved to do and did regularly with friends and family, going to favorite places or exploring new restaurants that sounded interesting to her. But she had a critical side and a restaurant or recipe that didn’t live up to her high expectations was stricken from her list of go-to’s and not tried again. A month prior to passing Gene was out to lunch at Lucky’s, a favorite of hers, enjoying a vodka martini, the onion rings, potato skins, the petit filet mignon and the chocolate sundae for dessert. She enjoyed it all with a big smile on her face.
Raised a secular Jew Gene made sure that no holiday went by without the appropriate celebration. All through the years she would play Easter Bunny to her children and then her grandchildren and always had a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in her home with a pile of presents for her family and friends.
An example of her warm heart was her penchant for gifting one pound boxes of See’s chocolate, Nuts and Chews or just Nuts, to her friends, family, the plumber, the doctor and even the dentist. She would take two boxes of See’s chocolate to her dentist’s office, one for the dental hygienist and one for the office staff. Who takes candy to their dentist? Well Gene did.
Gene was smart, wise, and someone who knew herself and would speak her mind. If she wanted something or had an opinion, she said it. If you asked her advice, she would give it. One might not like everything she said but for the most part it was right on. Right to the end of her life she was mentally sharp and fiercely independent.
Gene is survived by her daughter Marilyn Craig, and her partner Michael Mann, her son, Geoffrey Slaff and his wife Dale Zurawski, her grandchildren, Tad Slaff, Margo Stokum and her husband Lou Stokum, and Dena Slaff, as well as, her two stepchildren, Michael Goldberg and his partner Toni Ellis, and Nicole Goldberg.
Gene was a wonderful person, loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. She had a sharp intellect, a big heart and a strong sense of right and wrong. She will be missed but will live on in the memories of all who knew her.