Ellen Fletcher: The loss of a legend

Ellen Fletcher

As soon as we learned of Ellen Fletcher's passing on November 7, we sent a request to friends and acquaintances of hers, asking them to share their personal memories of Ellen. We'll be posting them here as they come in, and we encourage you to contribute in the comments section below.

For those of you who didn't know Ellen, I'll describe her as she was always described to me. “She's a legend,” was what I was always told. And it's true. This Palo Alto Online article sums up her her life and huge list of achievements.

Fletcher, whose name has become virtually synonymous with Palo Alto's bicycle improvements, had been involved in bike-related issues for more than half a century…

The city recognized her leadership on bicycling in 2002, when the council officially named Bryant Street as the “Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard.” Her efforts helped the city attain the designation of “Bicycle Friendly Community” from the League of American Bicyclists, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Her long list of awards includes the Palo Alto Civic League Citizen of the Year (1975); the Women's Transportation Seminar Woman of the Year (1989); the League of American Bicyclists Volunteer of the Year (1996); and the Bay Area Air Quality District Clean Air Champion Award (1997).

Of course, to those who knew her, Ellen represented something greater than the sum of her accomplishments. She was an inspiration because of her tenacity and commitment to giving her own time to make the world better for everybody. In 2010, SVBC created an annual volunteerism award in her honor, and awarded her the first one. We could think of no higher honor than to recognize those in our community who give of themselves with the same fire and determination as Ellen did. She will be missed.

From our own Corinne Winter:

What always inspired me most about Ellen was the level to which she devoted herself to community change. She led by example–always encouraging others to work for change but also completely willing to jump in and make things happen where needed. She was the heart of our community and her generosity of spirit was unmistakable and irreplaceable.

From Bob Mack, publisher of Cycle CA! magazine:

I first met Ellen Fletcher in the mid 1970s, as a high school student, working on community projects in Palo Alto. When the first the first bike lanes were proposed Ellen was on the front lines. No one knew what a bike lane was or why we needed them. She led the fight and helped create a network of green (yes, pea green) bike lanes to connect schools, parks and neighborhoods in the city. This transformed transportation for those without cars.

During the more than 30 years I knew Ellen, she never stopped fighting to shape the world around her to be a better place. Her efforts are the key to why we have bikes on buses and trains. She believed that walking and biking are key to being connected to the world around us.

Her impact goes far beyond bicycles. She worked to foster tolerance between people, build recycling into the fabric of the region, and to remind us all of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. The people who's lives were touched by Ellen are better for knowing her.

From Rich Withers:

Back in the 1980s, when I was a BABC officer, I looked upon her as a role model.

While commuting myself from Fremont (~2000), on more than one occasion I encountered Ellen in Santa Clara, a good 10 miles from Palo Alto, pulling a trailer behind her bike.

I got to know Ellen fairly well during ~2005 – 2010, when I coordinated Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition volunteers staffing the guarded bike parking at the annual Sunnyvale Art & Wine Festival. I would always pick up signs and hand-out materials from her at her condo in Palo Alto. She would also volunteer for a shift herself and would bike there (~7 miles) on her own until 3 or 4 years ago, when one of her lungs had to be removed because of cancer, limiting her range. After that, I would shuttle her in my car.

Ellen was a participant in the Kindertransport, in which Jewish children were taken from Germany (Ellen was born in Berlin) to small towns in the UK to safely wait out WW2. She told me that this was when she learned to bike, as in Berlin she took the subway.

From Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition:

We are saddened to hear of Ellen's passing. We have benefited so greatly from Ellen's trailblazing work for better bicycling over many decades. From her pioneering work opening up access on Caltrain for people with bikes to winning bike boulevards in Palo Alto to serving as a model for advocates throughout the Bay Area, we have so much to thank Ellen for.

From Lori:

I met Ellen Fletcher in 2008 when I was volunteering with SVBC bike parking at Stanford Football games and also at some art and wine festivals. I feel privileged to have a few short conversations with her during the times I volunteered and to get to know her. Her impact on bicycling in the community will last a long time.

From Amos Rendler:

I will miss Ellen. I learned a lot from her while attending meetings and parking bikes at Stanford football games. I had a chance to work on a project with her at the San Jose Airport which started with a letter she wrote to the Mayor of San Jose.

Be sure to read Ellen's own words in this “Why I Ride” article she wrote for the League of American Bicyclists just six months ago. You can also read an essay Ellen wrote in 2000 about her experiences leaving Nazi Germany, spending her teenage years in England, and finally coming to the U.S. here.

UPDATE (11/15)
The memorial service for Ellen will take place in the Albert and Janet Shultz Cultural Hall which is located in the Palo Alto Jewish Community Center.

The address is 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Cross street is East Charleston Road.

The Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, November 18, 2012, and start at 1:15 PM.

Ellen requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Please feel free to share this notice with any people or groups who may be interested. It is fine to wear bicycling attire to the memorial.

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