By Kristin Bender
BERKELEY Michael Rossman, one of the leaders of the Free Speech
Movement at UC Berkeley, died last week after a short battle with leukemia.
He was 68.
Rossman died at his Berkeley home surrounded by family and friends,
said his wife, Karen McLellan.
Rossman was at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus on the
afternoon of Oct. 2, 1964, when 3,000 students sat around a police
patrol car and kept it from taking student protester Jack Weinberg to jail.
One by one, people took off their shoes and hopped onto the top of
the police car to speak, and in essence the Free Speech Movement was born.
During a time when student protests were unprecedented, Rossman and
students Mario Savio, Hal Draper, Brian Turner, Steve Weissman, Art
Goldberg, Bettina Aptheker, Jackie Goldberg and others insisted that
the UC administration lift a ban on campus political activities,
academic freedom and free speech. It was a student protest that
lasted about three months during the 1964-65 school years.
But for Rossman it was something that consumed most of his life. He
wrote essays, news stories and books about it. He was the president
and chief executive officer of the Free Speech Movement Archives and
took very seriously the way information was presented on the group's
Web site, said Lee Felsenstein, secretary-treasurer of the archive.
"Michael, I would have to call him a renaissance man because he
embodied both art and science and activism. He was a poet and had
that sort of sensibility, which could be hard to bear when you were
reading one of his long writings. Nevertheless, he had a way with
metaphors that was a very important part of him," Felsenstein said.
Rossman came to Berkeley in 1958 and earned a degree from Cal in
mathematics in 1963.
He spent more than 30 years teaching science in elementary schools,
including Ecole Bilingue, a French-American School In Berkeley. He
was also the founder of Camp Chrysalis, a science and environmental
education camp in its 26th year.
"He had the most marvelous and open curiosity and he could answer a
kid's question in just about every direction because he knew so
much," McLellan said. "He wanted children to just explore and he
wrote these amazing essays on science education."
Rossman was many things a man of integrity, great humor and
brilliance, his widow said. But most of all, he was a teacher. "Just
about whereever he was he was a teacher. He just couldn't help
himself," she said.
He was also a collector.
For years, he had been compiling an archive of political posters from
the 1960s and '70s in his Berkeley home. "It's far larger than the
one at the Smithsonian," said McLellan, adding that there could be
close to 100,000 posters.
He also spent more than 40 years writing about the Free Speech
Movement, including the books "The Wedding Within the War," a
chronicle of the movement in the '60s, and "New Age Blues," partly about cults.
He also headed the 20th, 30th and 40th anniversary commemorations of
the Free Speech Movement.
"He was a very important part of the movement and especially the kind
of experimentation that went on afterward. The Free Speech Movement
was basically a political struggle, and yet in my view was really a
revolution because it overturned a social order and it opened large
possibilities for students," Felsenstein said.
Rossman was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2007 and quickly went to
writing a blog to keep his friends and family informed. Even in
writing about his illness, his words were frank and honest.
"Misfortune has found me, abruptly," he wrote July 22, 2007.
In the next eight months through hospital stays, thousands of
dollars spent on medical costs, a bone marrow transplant,
chemotherapy, a relapse and a lot of blood transfusions, his blog
shows how he struggled, but also used humor to cope with a disease
that would ultimately kill him.
Later blog entries became weighty with medical terms and descriptions
of his worsening condition. The last entry was written last month.
This week, McLellan, with whom he has two grown sons, posted a blog
entry alerting friends that Rossman had died at 2:30 p.m. May 12. "No
flowers, thank you," she wrote. "My yard is in splendid bloom."
Donations should go to charities that Rossman cared about and people
should give blood in his name, she said.
Rossman is survived by McLellan; his sons Lorca Rossman of Olema and
Jaime Kaszynski of Olympia, Wash; a brother, Jared Rossman of Redway;
a sister, Devora Rossman of Mendocino; and one granddaughter, Sage
Rossman of Olema.
His family is in the process of planning a late-June memorial service
and would like anyone who knew him to send notes of remembrance to
Reach Kristin Bender at 510-208-6453 or email@example.com.