As the fog burned off on a warm Saturday morning around the Oakwood Chapel on Paul Sweet Road, friends gathered to remember an actor and activist no longer with them.
“He was so enthusiastic and full of life,” said Sue Brenner, longtime friend of Paul McGrath, at the Aug. 23 memorial. Brenner met McGrath 20 years ago at an improvisational acting class.
McGrath, an 11-year member of improv group Um … Gee … Um, took his own life Aug. 3.
Friend Datta Khalsa compared McGrath’s contagious wit to that of the late Robin Williams, who committed suicide a week later.
“He could make everyone laugh, except possibly himself,” Khalsa said.
To the general public, however, McGrath was better known for his transportation activism and for tirelessly criticizing the county’s Regional Transportation Commission for a failed experimental rideshare program. He would bring a 18-foot bar graph to RTC meetings, as covered by GT (“Crash for Carpools,” 7/23) in a recent news story he had shared on his Twitter page.
McGrath, an engineer originally from the United Kingdom, ran RideSpring, a business that encouraged people to walk or bike to work. It entered participating employees from its clients, like the city of Santa Cruz and GAP, in lotteries for gift cards and other prizes.
RideSpring had 61 client companies, with 204 worksites and 7,600 users. It distributed 5,300 gifts. In McGrath’s absence, RideSpring faces an uncertain future.
Two slideshows showcased pictures of McGrath camping, biking and picnicking. In keeping with McGrath’s love for the outdoors, friends are asking that donations be made to the California State Parks Foundation, in lieu of sending flowers.
Suicide Prevention Services in Santa Cruz offers a free, confidential 24-hour hotline for people considering suicide, and friends and family of those suffering from depression. Call 831-458-5300 or visit suicidepreventionservice.org for more information.
Reaching the Top
The War on Poverty, which created a lot of social programs still used today, is hitting a big birthday, and some community organizers want to get together to talk about it. The Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County is organizing a discussion about the 50th anniversary that might generate some new ideas.
“It could really stir things up,” says Fin Finley, an administrator for the CAB, which was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty 49 years ago.
Sam Farr will discuss a trip he made to Latin America, where he learned about what social programs have worked there. Mark Stone will also be at the Sept. 4 discussion on the roof of the Community Foundation in Aptos, and the Raging Grannies will perform.
The richest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the richest one percent of people own nearly half of the world’s wealth, according to a report last year from the Credit Suisse Research Institute. But Finley says she’s more worried about the conditions people live in than gaps in wealth.
“To me, it’s OK to have the wealth be unequal, but it’s not OK to have people be suffering and still be working as hard as they are,” Finley says.
Finley says the free event might be the first step in a bigger discussion.
“There’s a limited space on the roof, but maybe the next conversation needs to be in an auditorium,” Finley says. “Maybe the conversation needs to be so much larger. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a physical conversation. It could be Facebook-y or YouTube-y.
Everyone knows someone who has lost a job or been homeless.”
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