OAKLAND — Jason Hodge was just 21 years old and transferring to UC Berkeley when he ran for the Oakland School Board and became the youngest man who had ever won a seat.

He died Sunday morning at the age of 34. The cause of death was not available.

Hodge was elected in 1996 after a campaign promising to bring a student perspective and some change to how schools were run in the city. For several years Hodge worked on programs to protect children as they walked to school and provide them with transit passes.

A 1992 graduate of Skyline High School, Hodge faced some early disappointment in his educational career when the school district fell through on a program called Promise. If participating students kept their grades up, the program would pay for them to attend one of 10 colleges, including UC Berkeley.

When Hodge graduated, he took his UC Berkeley acceptance letter and went to collect his tuition check.

The check was for $10. The district told disappointed students the money simply wasn't there.

"It was a terrible shock," Hodge later recalled.

Undaunted, Hodge instead attended Merritt College for two years and won a tuition award from the Rotary Club of Oakland so he could transfer to UC Berkeley as a junior, right around the time he was running for his school board seat.

During his first campaign, Hodge criticized what he called the state's lack of funding for local public education, saying, "it is clear that this is not only a problem, but one what will lead to a catastrophic conclusion."

Hodge served two terms, representing parts of East Oakland, and decided not to run for re-election to the board after local financial troubles eventually led to the state taking control of the district. He served the last several years as the Vallejo City Unified School District spokesman.

Hodge was hired as special assistant to the superintendent and public information officer by the Vallejo City Unified School District in October 2007, serving under then-Superintendent Mary Bull.

Bull and Hodge were both placed on paid administrative leave last June for undisclosed reasons. After an investigation, Hodge returned to work in September, while Bull was fired by the school board.

Hodge's sudden death shocked his family and members of the Vallejo school board Sunday.

"Jason was 34 years old, and as far as I know, he certainly seemed to be in good health," said school board member Hazel Wilson, who said she knew Hodge fairly well.

Wilson said she is friends with Hodge's sister Marcie, a Peralta Community College board member, but only got to know Hodge when he was hired by the school district in 2007.

Hodge was discovered by his mother in his East Oakland home Saturday morning after Oakland police officers notified her that his alarm system had been activated, said Hodge's aunt Shirley Powell, who lives in Vallejo.

He was unconscious and, despite efforts at the home and at Highland Hospital, failed to come out of his coma and died at 5 a.m. Sunday, Powell said.

"We were really praying for a miracle. I guess God knew he wanted him," Powell said, adding that Hodge was a minister who spent much of his energies in his mother's Pentecostal church in Oakland.

Hodge, a graduate of Skyline High School, was very close to his family, especially his two sisters, and recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling across the country by train, she added.

He had dinner with his sister and mother Friday night and talked with a cousin on the phone about 10 p.m., Powell said.

Hodge is survived by his three siblings; parents Bonnie and Joseph, a Vallejo native; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom live in Vallejo. Funeral services are pending.

Reach Lanz Christian Banes at lbanes@timesheraldonline.com or 707-553-6833. Reach Sean Maher at smaher@bayareanewsgroup.com or 510-208-6430. Times-Herald staff writer Shauntel Lowe contributed to this article.