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Janet Gray Hayes

1926 - 2014 | Obituary Condolences
Janet Gray Hayes Obituary
Janet Gray Hayes
July 12, 1926 - April 21, 2014
Resident of San Jose
Janet Gray Hayes, San Jose's pioneering and inspiring first woman mayor, passed away on April 21, 2014, after suffering a stroke. She was 87. Mayor Hayes was a dedicated public servant, long-standing community activist, caring wife and mother, and one of Santa Clara County's most beloved and respected public figures.
Ms. Hayes was born to John Paul Frazee, Jr., and Lucile Charman Gray Frazee in Rushville, Indiana, a farming community located southeast of Indianapolis. Her childhood home was a block from the railroad tracks and, throughout the Depression, daily itinerant or homeless visitors to the Frazee home seemed to know that her mother would give them a sandwich, if asked. Ms. Hayes was an accomplished cellist and her high school class valedictorian. Her parents were staunch Republicans who agreed to host Wendell Wilkie's election night victory party at their home in 1940, when Mr. Wilkie ran for president against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. Ms. Hayes inherited her parents' warmth, but not their politics. Her formative years in Rushville instilled in her a compassion for the needy, an appreciation for music, and a lifelong interest in social change.
Ms. Hayes graduated with honors from Indiana University and received a Master's degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. While attending graduate school, she met Kenneth Hayes, a University of Chicago medical student from Berkeley, California. Even though she was 'sort of' engaged to someone else at the time, she frequently recalled that she knew immediately that Kenneth was the one. They were married in 1950 and enjoyed a remarkable 63-year partnership, enduring love and a shared belief in working to improve the lives of others.
Kenneth and Janet Gray moved to San Jose's Rose Garden neighborhood in 1958. Ms. Hayes's introduction to civic affairs came in 1959, when she appeared before the then all-male city council to request the installation of a traffic light at the corner of Naglee and Dana Streets, a dangerous intersection near the elementary school attended by her two oldest children. The council promised action, but no traffic light was installed. Ms. Hayes felt her concerns had not been taken seriously because she was a pregnant housewife. It was then that she began her life as a community activist while raising four children. She was elected President of the League of Women Voters of the San Francisco Bay Area and of Central Santa Clara Valley and was the first woman President of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, before being elected to the San Jose City Council in 1971.
In 1974, Ms. Hayes, then San Jose's vice-mayor, campaigned against retired Chief of Detectives Bart Collins, fellow city councilmember Al Garza, and five other candidates to be San Jose's mayor. The Mercury News endorsed Mr. Collins and Ms. Hayes received little support from the male political establishment. She campaigned on the promise to "make San Jose better before making it bigger," a reference to the sprawl that she was ultimately only partially successful in controlling. After a bruising campaign, she beat Mr. Collins in the general election by a razor thin 1625 votes. When she took office in 1975, San Jose was America's largest city with a woman mayor, with a population of over 500,000. Voters had just lived through the Watergate scandal and were ready for a fresh, honest face. They got it in Mayor Hayes, who committed her administration to promoting and mentoring qualified women and improving San Jose's environment and quality of life.
Mayor Hayes served the City of San Jose with distinction, flair and a good sense of humor. She was admired for being hard working, unpretentious and accessible. In 1977, the city finally installed the traffic light at the corner of Naglee and Dana Streets that she had requested in 1959, well after all of her children had left home. Not one to rest on her laurels, Mayor Hayes campaigned for and won re-election for a second term in 1978, this time by a 71 percent landslide, reflecting the popularity she had earned during her first term as mayor.
After retiring from public office, Mayor Hayes stayed actively involved in civic affairs, supporting numerous political, cultural and environmental causes and lending her considerable administrative skills to projects intended to improve San Jose's livability. In 1983, she became President of the Board of Directors for the San Jose Museum of Art, just when the museum was on the verge of bankruptcy. With help from the museum's staff and other Board members, Mayor Hayes brought the Anne Frank exhibit to the museum, which broke all attendance and revenue records and was instrumental in rescuing the museum. Today, the museum boasts an impressive art collection and a talented, professional staff. Last year, the museum's portico was dedicated to Janet Gray and Kenneth Hayes for their long-standing commitment to supporting the museum and the arts in San Jose.

Mayor Hayes always had the gift of touching people with her warmth, wit and sincerity, believing that every individual had a life story worth knowing. In conversations with friends and strangers alike, she never failed to find things in common to discuss. She and Kenneth enjoyed jazz and classical music, loved to dance together and vacation at their Lake Tahoe cabin, and for years during their "retirement," traveled to numerous venues where Kenneth competed in national USTA sanctioned tennis tournaments. She and Kenneth generously opened their home for numerous political and charitable fundraising efforts, and for years their home served as the organizational hub for Citizens Against Airport Pollution (CAAP).
Mayor Hayes was predeceased by her wonderful husband, Kenneth Hayes, her parents, and her sister, Charman Frazee Palmer. She is survived by her daughter, Lindy of San Jose, her son John (Rachel) of Arlington, MA, her daughter Katherine Hayes Rodriguez (Neil Rodriguez) of Truckee, CA, and her daughter, Megan (Reed Zars) of Laramie, WY. She had nine grandchildren, Patsy and Mei Mei Hayes, Spencer Hayes, Zeke and Taber Rodriguez, and Levin, Cordelia and Tilden Zars. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made on behalf of Janet Gray Hayes to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the San Jose Museum of Art, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or San Jose State University, whose ML King Library houses the Mayor Hayes archive. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held on June 2, 2014, at 11:00 a.m., at the San Jose Museum of Art.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Apr. 30, 2014
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