Orange County has lost a towering political and educational leader.
Marian Bergeson, who in addition to being the first woman to serve in both houses of the state Legislature was California’s Secretary of Education, a school board trustee and a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, died Wednesday at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, according to published reports. She was 90.
Along with Marian Bergeson Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, the Marian Bergeson Aquatic Center at Corona del Mar High School is named in recognition of her many contributions, as is a prestigious honor for school board members. The Marian Bergeson Award, established by the Orange County School Boards Association in 1974, is annually presented to district trustees who promote public education through their governing board service and community efforts.
“There are individuals who are gifted, and there are those who are a gift, and Marian Bergeson was truly a gift to our county and the state of California,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “She was a pioneer who gave of herself without reservation, devoting her life to improving the lives of others, especially those with the greatest needs. In doing so, she raised the bar for public service in Orange County and beyond.”
Born in Salt Lake City in 1925, Bergeson moved to Westwood with her family and attended UCLA for three years before earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Brigham Young University. She taught in Santa Monica early in her career, but in 1959 she moved to Newport Beach and quickly made her mark in the community, working to establish a new school library, a children’s theater guild and a cultural center.
In 1964, she parlayed her volunteer work into a seat on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Board of Education and was re-elected three times. During her tenure, she burnished a reputation for her knowledge of school finance and policy development and was named president of the California School Boards Association, according to a biography that appears on the UC Irvine website.
In 1978, Bergeson made her second run at a state Assembly seat, which she won with 74 percent of the vote. A Republican, she represented the 74th Assembly District until 1984, when she was elected as a California state senator, representing the 37th District and making history as the first woman to serve in both the Senate and Assembly.
Bergeson won re-election in the Senate in 1988 and 1992 before setting her sights on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She served as a supervisor from 1994 through 1996, leaving only to take on the role of California Secretary of Education after an appointment by Governor Pete Wilson. Following the election of Governor Gray Davis in 1999, Bergeson continued to serve on the state Board of Education.
Her accolades are too numerous to list here, but they include the UCI Medal of Honor in 2003, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) Humanitarian of the Year in 2000, Woman of the Year State Assembly in 1997, Lifetime Achievement from the State Senate in 1997 and Liberty Bell Award, Orange County Bar Association 1989.
Bergeson is survived by her husband, Garth, and three children. A fourth child, daughter Nancy, passed away in 2009.