BERKELEY --

Henry Ramsey Jr., a politician, lawyer, judge, professor and law school dean, died Friday at Alta Bates Medical Center after suffering a massive stroke five days earlier at his Berkeley home, his son Charles Ramsey said. He was 80.

"He was a man who came west from the segregated South and built a life based on community services and tried to make the world a better place for as many people as possible," said Charles Ramsey.

Henry Ramsey was born in Florence, S.C., and came of age in a segregated Deep South.

Before the 1965 Civil Rights March in Selma, Ala., Ramsey was jailed with a group of 60 others after they tried to demonstrate in one of Selma's white neighborhoods, according to a 1997 profile in the Contra Costa Times.

Henry Ramsey Jr., who later became an Alameda County judge, prepares to leave on the march from Selma, Ala., in 1965.
Henry Ramsey Jr., who later became an Alameda County judge, prepares to leave on the march from Selma, Ala., in 1965. (Ray Sawyer)

Ramsey came west to settle into his life and career.

He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy from UC Riverside and his law degree from UC Berkeley's School of Law. He was a member of the law faculty at Boalt Hall from 1971 to 1980 and served on the Berkeley City Council from 1973 to 1977.

Later, Ramsey became a Superior Court of California judge and then dean of Howard University School of Law from 1991 until 1996, according to his online biography.

Friends remember Ramsey for his quick wit, towering height and presence, and his dapper style, which typically included a dark suit and bow tie.

"Henry was always dapper, always entertaining and always inspiring," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who studied under Ramsey at UC Berkeley's Law School in 1979-80. "He made learning fun."


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Jim McMillan, a former Richmond councilman and Ramsey's friend for more than 50 years, said he was fiercely principled and always passionate about civil rights.

"He wasn't that suave when I first met him," McMillan chuckled. "He walked around with an Afro and old army combat jacket and combat boots back then."

McMillan said Ramsey was the lead attorney for a group of African-American Richmond police officers who successfully sued the city for discrimination in the early 1980s.

"The officers really celebrated him, really revered him," McMillan said.

Ramsey was in good health before his stroke, his son said. His 80th birthday party was held at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland and included guests such as state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Ramsey and his wife had recently returned from a vacation in Cambodia.

Charles Ramsey said his father was one of two African-Americans, along with Eugene Swann, to integrate the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office in the 1960s.

Ramsey leaves a lasting legacy in the East Bay. Charles, a longtime member of the West Contra Costa school board, is running for mayor of Richmond. The Henry Ramsey Jr. Law Academy at De Anza High School bears his name.

"Henry was someone who really lived in many worlds: academic, foundation, political, legal. This was a man who impacted many worlds," Gioia said. "The common theme is he cared about people who were most in need of a voice."

Ramsey is survived by six children and his wife, Eleanor. His first wife, Evelyn, died in 2010.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.