Thursday, January 29, 2004
On Monday afternoon, just a bit more than 24 hours since Ruth Vreeland died, Monterey Mayor Dan Albert could not look beyond the fact that his longtime colleague on the city council was gone.
Asked who might fill her empty seat, Albert would say only, “I hate to talk about that now.”
Vreeland, 68, wife, mother of three daughters and grandmother to seven was killed in a car accident on Highway 101 near San Lucas on January 25. She was coming back to Monterey in the afternoon from southern California. According to the report from the coroner’s unit of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Vreeland swiped the side of a motorhome that was also traveling north, causing her minivan to hit the center median and roll numerous times. An autopsy for cause of death will be conducted.
Vreeland served on the Monterey City Council for 20 years. A longtime teacher at Monte Vista School and in the local school district, she became active in the teachers’ union as well as the Democratic Party before winning a seat on the nonpartisan city council in 1983. The list of positions she’s filled on various boards and councils runs two pages.
Besides being active in educational causes, Vreeland also got involved on every level of politics from the state on down to the neighborhoods. She was on the board of directors of the California League of Cities, the Advisory Council for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), the Old Monterey Business Association, and city subcommittees for Fisherman’s Wharf, the airport and the Fort Ord Re-Use Authority (FORA).
Her involvement in the community seemed to know no limits.
“Any time we needed someone to serve on a committee, her hand would go up right away, and when she was on something like that, she was very involved in it,” Albert says. “People were comfortable with her. She had a big heart and she showed it.”
Vreeland first won a seat on the city council in 1983, a year when Albert was re-elected to the council and current City Councilman Clyde Roberson won the mayor’s seat. As it did Albert, Vreeland’s sudden death knocked Roberson back.
“I’m in shock,” Roberson said on Monday afternoon.
The thing about Vreeland that Roberson appreciated was that she was an educator. As a member of so many varied bodies, she relayed information about regional or state issues back to the council and brought them up to speed.
“She wasn’t a game player. She was straight up. No hidden agendas. No sound bites. She was just Ruth,” Roberson said.
Like Albert, Roberson could not begin to imagine who might fill her council seat, a seat she held for two decades.
According to the Monterey city charter, the city council has the first opportunity to appoint her successor. The appointment has to be approved by a majority of the council. If the council cannot agree, the mayor chooses the replacement. The decision must be made in 40 days, or by March 5. However, the new member has the seat only until the next general election, which will be held in November.
A tribute to Vreeland will be held on Jan. 31 at Monterey Bay Park (Window on the Bay) across from Lake El Estero.