Monday, May 27, 2024

Alice Wolf, in a portrait taken of her as she joined Massachusetts Advocates for Children as a senior adviser.

Former Cambridge city councillor, mayor and state representative Alice Wolf died Thursday after a brief battle with leukemia, according to an obituary posted online and media reports. She was 89.

A private funeral for family and friends is planned for Tuesday, with a public celebration to be announced later. Shiva will be observed at the family home in Cambridge on Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., with masks required at all events.

“She has spent her entire life working to help others,” said state Rep. Marjorie Decker, a protege of Wolf’s, in 2013. On Sunday, Decker said online that her heart was “shattered by the loss of my friend and mentor.”

Mayor Sumbul Sidduqi recalled Wolf on Sunday as a “dedicated public servant, and always willing to talk and share advice.”

“Her legacy will continue to inspire us all,” Siddiqui said via social media.

Wolf was born Dec. 24, 1933, in Vienna, to a family that fled Nazi persecution for America, a history that played a role in her 1985 call for Cambridge to become a sanctuary city for refugees and immigrants. “I came to this country as a refugee,” she said before a 5-4 vote. Alice Koerner earned a bachelor’s from Simmons College and married lifelong partner Robert Wolf in 1955, and the couple moved to Cambridge. She programmed at MIT and local technology companies and in 1978 earned a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University, according to the Alice K. Wolf Papers in the Cambridge Room of the Cambridge Public Library.

Becoming active in as a parent at the Peabody School, which her sons attended, led to running for School Committee in 1974. She was a member until 1982, then ran for City Council, where she served from 1984 to 1994, including a 1990-1992 term as mayor. She ran in 1997 for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and retired in 2013; her 25th Middlesex District subsequently went to then city councillor Decker. That same year, the former police station in Central Square, now home to the Cambridge Housing Authority, Multi-Service Center and Community Learning Center, was named the Alice K. Wolf Center. Decker made the announcement.

“We’ve been looking for an appropriate place to honor her,” Decker said, noting the building’s uses. “These are all the issues [important to] Alice Wolf throughout her career as a volunteer and parent, to the School Committee to the City Council to mayor and state representative. What is happening in this building and, more importantly, who is in this building represents the issues that she’s cared the most about and has been the champion for.”

Wolf stayed involved in issues after retirement, speaking out at meetings, running debates and forums for political offices and sometimes weighing in to offer analyses from her long experience in civic life. She went on to work for Massachusetts Advocates for Children as a senior adviser and became a fellow in the Distinguished Fellows Program at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

“Alice Wolf worked to make government accessible to all and make it work hardest for society’s most vulnerable. Her focus was early childhood education, children at risk, and equality and equity for all people – especially women, racial and religious minorities and the LGBTQ community,” her obituary said. “Her vision and compassion led her to pursue goals and policy solutions years, sometimes decades, ahead of common recognition of a need.”

In addition to a husband and two sons, she has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, according to the obituary. But her decades of political efforts mean that she has contributed to the lives of countless Cantabrigians and others throughout Massachusetts.

“Alice Wolf is a political legend,” said Anthony Galluccio, another holder of various political roles in Cambridge who ran against Wolf in 1996 and 1998 for a seat in the Legislature. “When I watch sports shows about rival athletes that grow to be friends over the years, I can relate to this … I am in awe of Alice Wolf.”

This post was updated Jan. 31, 2023, to emphasize Marjorie Decker’s comments about Alice Wolf.