• Editor’s note: Dorothea Bradley passed away due to COVID-19.

      An African American woman with SantaClaus

      Dorothea Bradley with Santa (Photo – Brian Biery)

      The first time I met Dorothea Bradley I was working for the City of Pasadena doing neighborhood organizing, particularly in the northwest section of the city.

      By Brian Biery

      One of my colleagues, Inez Yslas, had been collaborating with Dorothea for several years and wanted me to meet her. There are some people who you never forget, especially the first time you meet them. My experience with Dorothea that day, and for years to come, was unforgettable.

      Surrounded by mountains of day-old breads, pastries, muffins, chips and other foodstuffs from Trader Joe’s, and protected by an enormous dog, Dorothea eyed me up and down and wondered aloud, as if I wasn’t present, why a skinny white boy like me was walking around in that neighborhood. Unimpressed with our introduction by Inez she proceeded to bark orders from her porch to the team of assembled volunteers. They organized the TJ’s donations to be distributed around the neighborhood to families in need in an old Chevy van that she had managed to commandeer from a neighbor. Certainly not one to mince words, Dorothea proceeded to let everyone know that I was an interloper, an outsider, and probably shouldn’t be trusted. Inside I regretted coming that day, but hoped that one day she would go a little easier on me and maybe even allow me to explain why I was there.

      Dorothea was a force of nature, an indomitable spirit whose mind never rested. Constantly thinking about ways to improve others’ lives, she continued to pitch to me ideas for helping people coming out of jail and prison to reintegrate into the community the week before she died. All we needed to do, she exclaimed, was to provide them with job training, education, counseling, addiction treatment and a place to live, and they would be fine! And we would get the police department to pay for it, since they had so much money.

      A woman on a wheelchair with a man in uniform and behind them a fire truck

      Dorothea Bradley with Pasadena Police Chief John Perez (Photo – Brian Biery)

      Dorothea thought of solutions where others believed there were too many complications, too much effort, not enough support. As an eternal optimist, she believed that there had to be a way to fix the challenges before us. Her heart was bigger than an elephant’s as she always thought that giving was better than receiving.

      In addition to organizing a food distribution project in her neighborhood, she produced a television show for many years called Choices for Pasadena Media where she interviewed a wide range of community members. Her list of activities was long, with visits to a nearby Buddhist temple to enjoy the gardens and socialize with the monks. One of her greatest sleight of hand tricks was to invite the monks to the annual Worcester Ave. Neighborhood Posada that she helped to coordinate. The monks were playful and sensitive enough to provide a blessing for the children who walked in the posada and then gleefully helped to hand out donated toys to families from the neighborhood at the culmination of the parade in front of Dorothea’s house. In later years the posada ended at a local mortuary called Avalon Pasadena Funeral Home.

      She was an aging hippie in some respects. For many years she was a member of Co-Op Camp which is a family oriented group of 60’s/70’ activists and their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren who take over a camp nestled peacefully in the Sierras near Huntington Lake.  Dorothea left footprints everywhere she landed. At the Co-Op Camp she advocated for accessibility features to be added to the buildings and eventually convinced the managers to build two cabins that were ADA compliant so that she would have a comfortable place to stay.

      A group of people surrounding a woman in a wheelchair with a firetruck behind them

      Dorothea Bradley at the ‘Share a Meal’ program at the Pasadena Sandwich Company in 2018 with Mayor Terry Tornek, the Fink Family (Meghan, Nicole, John and Katie), Police Chief John Perez, and PFD Steve Lawhorn (Photo – Brian Biery)

      One of her biggest visions was to develop a mobile dialysis vehicle for use in the national parks. Her stays at Co-Op Camp were always limited to about three days. She would have to drop out of the mountains to the Fresno area to visit the nearest dialysis center. As a result, she knew what it was like for other patients to not be able to stay in nature for very long, hence the idea of the mobile system. She even contacted a doctor in South America who she said was designing such a device and tried to convince him to partner with her on the production of the system. Her wish was that places like Yosemite Valley and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon would have these vehicles so that folks could receive their treatment in the morning and then enjoy the splendor of these gorgeous landscapes in the afternoon.

      Dorothea was a survivor. She endured more of life’s anguish than most. Having survived numerous hospitalizations in recent years she seemed invincible. Few of us are able to maintain our good nature in the face of adversity as the stress of the moment wears on our capacity for humor and seeing the sublime in the ridiculous odds stacked against us.  Dorothea never capitulated. In my imagination she was still cracking jokes with the ambulance team and the emergency room physicians and nurses as they wheeled her into the OR. She left an indelible mark on everyone she met. No one who really talked to her will ever forget her. I certainly won’t. For how does the world replace someone who was so unique that no other human comparison comes to mind? A selfless, courageous, generous visionary who did everything in her power to make the world a better place. On her voice mail recording she would always say “Tell someone you love them. Carry Buddha in your heart. Walking by with a smile.” We love you Dorothea! And we are still smiling!

      Brian Biery is a community organizer, documentary photographer, and Adjunct Professor of Advocacy/Social Justice at Pacific Oaks College.

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      1. shel says:

        Dorothea was my mentor in the early 70ies. Not only a force of nature but a light to mankind. Often I was the only “white” boy around as we meet with the community, but my being with her made me ok. She showed (taught) about the need to help the community, not as a job but what a person should do. I went on to to just that and am proud it say she helped formed me into the person I am today.

        thanks Dorothea

      2. Christle Hintz says:

        What a wonderful tribute to a great lady. I had tears while reading it. Thank you Brian for writing it and reminding us of her generous spirit.

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