ALBANY -- Longtime Albany assistant City Manager Judy Lieberman died on July 25 after a battle with oral cancer. She was 56.
"Loving, generous, compassionate, fun, warm, smart, patient, nonjudgmental except when it really matters, wise, courageous and brave beyond words," husband Allen Samelson said when asked to describe his wife of 33 years.
Lieberman grew up in Miami before moving to Chicago to attend Northwestern University, where she met Samelson. She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology and then earned her master's degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois. She worked as the assistant to the Senate majority leader in the Illinois legislature, staffing the environment committee before Lieberman and Samelson moved to the Bay Area in 1986.
Lieberman began working for Albany in 1998, first being hired as a community development technician. Within a year she was promoted to full-time status. She became assistant city manager in 2003.
"She was a very engaging person," Councilwoman Joanne Wile said. "She knew all of the personal lives of the nursing staff who worked with her. She could say what town they were born in. She just had a wonderful way with people. Just very, very smart and a wonderful problem solver."
Courage, humor and grace are what comes to the mind of City Manager Beth Pollard.
"She really had courage for new challenges. She would welcome them," Pollard said. "She was really smart and (had a great) sense of humor. She would kind of grasp at some of the absurdities of government work."
As far as grace, "She would roll with the punches. Her illness too, not only courageous but rolling with the punches," Pollard said. "By doing that she was just a role model for people and just inspire people to go forward."
Lieberman had recently been honored with a plaque for her work on the preservation of Codornices Creek. Bill Springer of the Codornices Creek Watershed Council worked with her on the project and in addition to praising her ability to manage the project he also called her one of the sweetest people he had ever met.
"She was always open to us as volunteers," Springer said. "We were just fortunate in that stretch to do a lot. Judy is such a welcoming person. She was always such an upbeat, positive, 'We can do this' type of person. She was just so sweet. She always made you feel welcome, she always listened."
Pollard said people have told her the Codornices project "would not have happened without her.
"It had all of the obstacles you could get," she said. "You had to get the funding. Regulatory agencies. A corps of engineers. University of California, city of Berkeley, city of Albany. Different creek folks, people with different ideas of what restoration means. Ball field people. She navigated through all of it. She knew how much to tackle at once and get it done."
In addition to her work on Codornices Creek, Lieberman also had a hand in the work to create Pierce Street Park, the planting of trees all over the city, the remodeling of the civic center and the city's re-branding from "Northern gateway to Alameda County," to "Urban Village by the Bay."
"She just brought this engaged spirit and joy of doing things to every project that she took on," Wile said.
Lieberman was a nature lover, according to Samelson.
"She loved hiking up at Tilden, Point Reyes, Marin Headlands," he said. "She loved gardening. Bird watching. We have a couple of feeders in our back yard."
Also important, he said, was "being around family and friends. Having a house full of people. Lots of laughter. She loved cooking and baking for family and friends. She did that all throughout her illness. With whatever little energy she had left."
Lieberman is survived by her husband and two adult children, one son and one daughter. Donations in her honor can be made to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the Alameda County Community Food Bank or Mazon (a Jewish organization that helps the needy). A service in her memory was held on Monday.