Featured obituaries from recent print editions of Mills Quarterly. (Visit our Issuu page to read In Memoriam in its entirety.) To submit listings for a future issue, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 510.430.2123.
Katherine “Kate” McGinity, MA ’10
Adjunct Professor of Dance Kate McGinity, who also earned a master’s in dance from Mills in 2010, died of cancer on January 12. She is survived by her husband, Chris Griffin, a lighting designer with Mills Performing Arts.
Kate had taught at Mills ever since she graduated, elevating the Dance Cultures class she took over from department chair (and her former teacher) Ann Murphy, as well as working with students in pedagogy and ballet courses. She was developing a comprehensive pedagogy program within the department at the time of her death, which was to serve as a cornerstone of a future dance credential, and she had one more course
to complete to take her MA to an MFA.
A professional ballet dancer, Kate performed with the Eugene Ballet, State Street Ballet, and Inland Pacific Ballet, among other companies, but she was also renowned for her skills in tap dance and comedic timing. Her love of the comic mixed with the tragic led her to write her master’s thesis on the dances of Pina Bausch and the antics of clown Bill Irwin.
“Few could match Kate’s tough, funny, and deeply ethical style of teaching. Students adored her,” Murphy said. “Being part of the Dance and Theater Studies Department was exactly where she wanted and loved to be. Her loss is immeasurable.”
Sharon Robinson ’14, MPP ’15
Sharon Robinson, the first-ever recipient of the Alumnae of Color (AOCC) Committee’s Endowed Scholarship—and the only one to receive it twice—died on December 24, 2020, in San Leandro. She is survived by her partner, Rahman Batin; five brothers; and many nieces and nephews.
The eighth of nine children, Sharon enrolled in the BA/MPP program at Mills in her 50s after a career as an entrepreneur and activist (including with the West Oakland Community Collaborative and the United Way of the Bay Area). She was fiercely dedicated to educational equity and took her degrees to her work with the Oakland Public Education Fund, where she led the development of Oakland Unified School District’s Central Kitchen, Instructional Farm, and Education Center, with the goal of tying nutrition to education programs and preparing 35,000 meals a day for students.
She will be remembered for her advocacy; her love of travel, adventure sports, and African drumming; and the family reunions she organized that brought people together from around the world. And through Sharon’s continuing work with the AOCC to raise funds for the Endowed Scholarship, she strove to ensure that other Mills students of color had the same opportunities she did: “I remember her saying on numerous occasions that contributing to our scholarship was making an investment,” said Lynette Castille-Hall ’75. “An investment in a student just like herself.”
Lenn Keller ’84
A groundbreaking photographer, archivist, and Mills volunteer, Lenn Keller died on December 16, 2020, in Oakland.
The Class of 1984 knew Lenn as an enthusiastic class secretary, but the LGBTQ+ community knew her as a trailblazer. After growing up in Chicago and exploring photography with other Black artists in Harlem, Lenn moved to California in 1975. She eventually made her way to San Francisco and then to Berkeley, becoming involved in the Bay Area’s fledgling queer movement and documenting it for the ages, particularly Black lesbian activism.
The artistic skills she picked up in New York came in handy as she shot photos and videos of the movement, from protests to Pride, that were later exhibited to the public in shows such as Queer California: Untold Stories at the Oakland Museum of California in 2019. Lenn enrolled at Mills in the early ’80s to bolster her documentary skills with a degree in communications, later making several films—including one that remains unfinished.
It was in 2014 that Lenn co-founded the Bay Area Lesbian Archives, a repository of materials that she herself had collected over the years. A permanent location is still in the works. “Marginalized histories are often not documented,” she said to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2018. “This history is very important, not just for
posterity, but it’s important for us now.”
Just months before Lenn died of cancer, she traveled back to Chicago to care for her brother, Otis, who succumbed to it himself on August 21. She is survived by one other brother and her daughter, Nakiya.
Peggy Constance Woodruff ’58
Peggy was born in Orlando, Florida, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She entered Mills in 1954 during a turbulent time in our nation’s history: Schools had recently been desegregated by the Supreme Court, and the civil rights movement was prominent nationwide. After graduating in 1958, Peggy continued to involve herself in social justice and civil rights issues for many years. She moved to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco in the ’60s and was involved in city politics. She was even photographed by Life magazine in an article about “quaint” San Francisco life. She was the administrator for substance-abuse service contracts for the City and County of San Francisco.
After the loss of her parents and sister, Peggy decided to research her family background and became a genealogist, establishing a business called Family Roots to research African American families. She traveled by train to Florida many times to research her family background. Peggy also traveled extensively in Europe and briefly lived in Mexico City.
Peggy lived in Marin for a number of years, where she farmed acres of fruit trees and grew vegetables. After moving to Oakland, she was employed as director of the West Berkeley Health Center and later worked as an independent contractor and grant writer for service agencies. In later years, she was a founding member of the Mills Alumnae of Color Committee and served as its co-chair from 1999 to 2006. In 2003, Peggy secured the College’s first Smithsonian Art Exhibit, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers from 1840-Present.
Peggy died in Oakland on September 18, 2020.
Diana Russell, professor emerita of women’s studies
Diana Russell, one of the first teachers of women’s studies at Mills, died on July 28, 2020, in Oakland. Born and raised in South Africa, Russell witnessed the oppression enacted by the Afrikaner police state, which shaped her scholarship: After receiving a master’s degree in political science from the London School of Economics, she attended Harvard University for her PhD, studying sociology and the history of revolution.
It was then, in 1969, that she arrived at Mills as a sociology professor. In her first year, she was the co-instructor on the first woman-focused course at the College, which led to the formation of the women’s studies program—among the first in the US. In the 22 years she taught at Mills, she continually pushed against misogyny with actions such as helping put together the first-ever International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels, Belgium; founding organizations such as Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, and Feminists’ Anti-Nuclear Group; and coining and politicizing the word “femicide.” Russell documented all of this work throughout many books and articles.
She also continued protesting using bold methodology, something she learned in her home country. Russell was known to spray-paint feminist sayings on businesses known for their sexism, stage sit-ins at government offices, and destroy magazines in porn shops.
In recent years, Russell shifted her attention to writing her memoirs, which she did not finish. Read more about them on her website, dianarussell.com. She is survived by a sister and an extensive community of friends, admirers, and women who were saved by her work.
Stacey Park Milbern, MBA ’16
A fierce, well-known advocate for people with disabilities, Stacey Park Milbern died on May 19, 2020—her 33rd birthday—in Stanford, California. The physical challenges she experienced in her life due to muscular dystrophy led her to organize and galvanize her community and beyond, doing everything from hosting Disability Justice Culture Club and Hidden Army gatherings at her East Oakland home to working on President Barack Obama’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities and co-producing the Netflix documentary Crip Camp. More recently, she organized mutual assistance to keep those on ventilators safe as Pacific Gas & Electric shut off electricity in fire-prone areas of the state.
Stacey was also passionate about ensuring that queer BIPOC would not be erased from efforts for disability justice, in California and across the country. She enrolled at Mills in 2012 to continue that work and inspired her classmates and instructors alike. A remembrance from fellow Lokey graduates Sarah Garmisa, MPP/ MBA ’15, and Emily Davis ’06, MBA ’14, touted Stacey’s vibrancy: “She was a hustler who worked harder than even the best of us. Yet she never lost touch with her clever and sarcastic sense of humor that made her approachable and easy to talk to, despite her tremendously powerful presence.” Stacey is survived by her two grandmothers, her parents, and two siblings.
Leah Hardcastle MacNeil, MA ’51
After college at San Jose State, Leah served in the United States Navy during World War II and earned a master’s degree in music at Mills. She enjoyed a variety of activities throughout her life, such as producing plays and theatrical events for the Berkeley Repertory Theater, playing piano in concert, and volunteering as the chapter advisor for the Alpha Omicron Phi sorority at the University of California. Her post-WWII stint with the Spamettes, a traveling troupe of female performers that advertised Hormel products, was a favorite story to retell.
For Mills, though, she was a dedicated and longtime volunteer. She served on the AAMC’s Board of Governors for 18 years, spending stints on the Finance and Travel Committees. She was also the co-leader of the East Bay Mills Branch for 14 years and was a frequent presence on AAMC trips with her late husband, Neil. Leah died in Oakland on July 7, 2020.
She is survived by three children, including Lesli MacNeil ’75; and three grandchildren.
Katherine Zelinsky Westheimer ’42
A key figure in the construction of Reinhardt Alumnae House, Katherine Zelinsky Westheimer was an enthusiastic member of the Mills alumnae community. She graduated from Mills with a degree in biology, yet she spent a great deal of time as a patron of the arts. (Her late husband, Joseph, was an award-winning cinematographer and special effects artist in film and television.) As a longtime board member with the Los Angeles Mills College Association (LAMCA), Katherine helped organize visits to cultural institutions and performances around the area. She was also dear friends with the late Connie Ong ’42, and was always one of Connie’s greatest artistic champions.
LAMCA Co-President Julia Almanzan shared her reflections in an email to fellow Los Angeles-area Millsies in June 2020: “Another board member accurately describes Kay as a woman who was comfortable in her own skin, had strong opinions, and did not have fear of what others thought when she shared them. Though she was opinionated, she shared her perspective in a way that was never disrespectful, and with a twinkle and wink in her voice, convincing anyone to agree with her. She was a quintessential classy, knowledgeable, and brilliant Mills woman.”
Katherine died on April 23, 2020, in Beverly Hills, California. She is survived by a son and a grandson.