By Lisa P. White
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa Community College District Board President Sheila Grilli, a former educator, book seller and devoted community servant, died Saturday after a long illness.
Elected to the district's governing board in 1998, the 75-year-old Grilli was in her fourth term representing Ward 3, which includes Pleasant Hill, Concord, Pacheco and most of Martinez. She was the third board member representing that area since the district's formation in 1948.
"Sheila was a feisty advocate for the students who come to us with hopes of fulfilling their higher education goals with us," governing board Vice President John E. Márquez said in a statement. "One of my fondest memories will be the joy on her face as she describes her participation at graduation ceremonies and seeing the contribution our colleges make in the lives of our students. She will be missed."
Born and raised in Martinez, Grilli graduated from Alhambra High School in 1955. She attended Diablo Valley College and transferred to UC Berkeley, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and journalism. She received a teaching credential from San Francisco State and taught at Clayton Valley High School. Grilli also taught writing at Cal State East Bay, where she studied for a master's degree in English.
Harriett Burt, a former Martinez City Council member and planning commissioner, had been close friends with Grilli since they met in 1958 at UC Berkeley, where they were sorority sisters and, briefly, roommates. Burt said Grilli earned the respect and admiration of a wide range of people, including politicians and teaching colleagues.
"Any place Sheila went she became one of the centers of the group," Burt said. "She had such a dynamic personality, great sense of humor and extremely sharp mind."
Grilli loved her hometown, where she spent her entire adult life, and volunteered with several community groups. She was founding president of the Martinez Historical Society, on the board of directors of the Muir Heritage Land Trust and an active member of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, where she was secretary of the pastoral council.
In the mid 1990s, Grilli opened a book store in downtown Martinez that became a gathering place where book lovers browsed the wide selection, old friends from her Alhambra High graduating class caught up with each other and politicos exchanged views on the issues of the day.
Linus Eukel, executive director of the Muir Heritage Land Trust, said he got to know Grilli during her time on the board and also from frequent visits to her book store.
"You'd walk in there, and there would be senators and congressmen; she'd be holding court down there," he said.
Grilli was deeply involved in local Democratic politics -- she served as campaign treasurer for several candidates over the years -- and ran unsuccessfully for Martinez City Council before she won a seat on the community college district board.
Eukel said Grilli was caring, perceptive and passionate about preserving open space.
"I think she was an extraordinary woman with a devotion to service, whether it be to the land trust, to the community college district, to her church, to teaching or to her customers who were just looking for an interesting book," Eukel said. "She was really engaged with that kind of service, and I think she really made a difference."