Robert Gnaizda
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Robert Gnaizda
Aug 6, 1936 - Jul 11, 2020
Robert Gnaizda, a pioneering civil rights lawyer, died on July 11, 2020 in San Francisco, surrounded by loving family.

Robert, known by friends and colleagues as Bob, was an exceptional man: a fighter for justice, an advocate for the underdog, a family man, and an insatiable lover of chocolate.

He fought for social justice in varying ways for more than 75 years. He is most known for his five decades of work as a public interest attorney.

Born on August 6, 1936, Bob's passion for justice began in Brownsville, Brooklyn—then a tough Jewish neighborhood—where he frequently defended other boys and their stickball turf by beating up the biggest schoolyard bullies.

It was further sparked at age 10, when he rode his Schwinn bicycle to Ebbets Field to watch Jackie Robinson play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and observed that the common stereotypes about Blacks were unfounded and unfair.

Bob Gnaizda graduated from his beloved Stuyvesant High School in 1953, from Columbia University in 1957, and from Yale Law School in 1960.

As a young attorney in February 1965, Bob hid in the backseat of a car as he rode to Clay County, Mississippi, where he collected testimony on how white police and officials were preventing Blacks from voting. That testimony helped influence the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1966, during the era of Cesar Chavez, Bob co-founded California Rural Legal Assistance. He took class action cases on behalf of farmworkers forced to work for low wages in poor conditions.

In 1970, he co-founded Public Advocates in San Francisco. Among his many achievements there, in the 1970s he won a legal battle that forced the San Francisco Police and Fire Departments to end their discriminatory hiring and promotion practices.

Bob worked as a key advisor in the first Governor Jerry Brown administration, from 1975 to 1976, where he was deputy secretary of health and welfare for the State of California.

He co-founded the Greenlining Institute in 1993, bringing together a diverse group of community leaders to fight against redlining, and for the economic empowerment of communities of color.

As a long-time advocate for minority housing rights, Bob saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming and tried to warn the Federal Reserve. He was featured in Inside Job, the Oscar-winning documentary on the crisis.

After refusing to retire at age 68, he joined the National Asian American Coalition, and then the National Diversity Coalition, as General Counsel, as always, fighting on behalf of access to affordable housing, small business loans and equal opportunity.

Throughout his career, Bob was known as a brilliant strategist who came up with inventive ways to get results. He believed in building coalitions and was always willing to negotiate with the other side. His mentoring of young people of color resulted in numerous and powerful community leaders who carry on his legacy today.

After much convincing from his family, Bob finally retired at age 81 due to declining health. He died of complications relating to old age at age 83.

But more important to Bob than his long and celebrated career was his family. Bob was a loving, supportive husband to his wife, Claudia Viek—who has been his partner in social justice activism. Through his previous wife Ellen, Bob has two sons, for whom he was an incredible father. He gave them his time, his support, and his love of debate and math. He is survived by his wife, his sons Josh and Matt Gnaizda, and his granddaughter August Gnaizda.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Jul. 14 to Jul. 15, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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13 entries
August 9, 2020
Hi, My name is Danny Bittker, and my father was Boris I. Bittker , who taught at the Yale Law School for many years. He was a great admirer of Bob, and when I moved to San Francisco my father gave me Bob's name and number. I don't think we actually ever met, perhaps only speaking on the phone. Anyhow just wanted to check in and send my condolences. He sounds like he was an extraordinary man, and I wish family and friends all best wishes.
Danny Bittker
July 30, 2020
50 ish years ago Bob was my neighbor in Berkeley. The Quan kids helped you move in, learned to play darts your deck, took Poco on walks, became card carrying members of the, "International Giraffe Appreciation Society", and we were sad when you sold the house moved on. I hope you are at peace and your family finds solace in knowing that you left smiles on many faces.
Stephen Quan
Friend
July 28, 2020
I was Bob's Executive Assistant at Greenlining at the turn of the millennium. He is the most extraordinary person I've ever known. He and I loved movies so once, to commend me for a good job, he got me a ticket to see the epic movie "Sunshine" and drove me to the theater, which was pretty far away. It was the perfect gift. I spent two seders with him and his family. I'm not Jewish, so at the end of the seder, he let me bring home "The Symbolic Ham." (I later learned from my Jewish friends that that's not a thing.) He praised my work as much as possible and he never, ever got mad when I made a big mistake. Truly, there will never be another Bob.
Jen Bonardi
Coworker
July 25, 2020
Aloha from Hawaii —
I just learned of Bob’s passing, and wish to extend my condolences to Bob’s family. I worked with Bob a number of years ago to fight against payday lending. I remember well how passionate, forceful and eloquent he was, as he criticized certain forms of payday lending for undercutting the efforts of people to get ahead and undermining communities by draining financial resources from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. I join with his family, friends and colleagues in celebrating Bob and all that he did to help so many.
Donna Tanoue, Former Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Donna Tanoue
Coworker
July 22, 2020
We are proud Bob was a friend and lawyer for the Filipino community. He challenged systemic discrimination in promotions the SF city Filipino civil servants . He won Filipino CPA accountants reciprocity in California. A brilliant attorney and negotiator, he outmaneuvered his adversaries to champion concessions that led to the collapse of the walls of inequality and racism. He will be greatly missed and we extend deep sympathy for the loss to his family.
Emil De Guzman
Friend
July 19, 2020
I must have interviewed Bob two hundred times during the decades of his life. A wonderful person who never waivered in his fight for equality and justice. My condolences to his family.

John Motroni
Friend
July 18, 2020
No one can prepare you for a loss; it comes like a swift wind. However, take comfort in knowing God is with you and your family lean on him in your time of need. Please accept my most heartfelt condolences.
Simone Taylor
July 17, 2020
In a lifetime of newspaper reporting and editing, I never met a more energetic, dedicated, effective legal advocate for the disadvantaged than my friend Bob Gnaizda. He abides in my memory as an exemplary human being.
Eric Brazil
Friend
July 16, 2020
When Bob Gnaizda and John Gamboa founded the Greenlining Institute, they hired me to help with the fund development function. They were great to work with; every proposal we wrote was funded. I always knew that it was not due to my terrific writing. Bob and John were great advocates and negotiators. The written proposal just sealed the deal. I extend my condolences to Bob's family. I'm so glad that I got to know him.
Wilma Espinoza
Coworker
July 16, 2020
I spent a year working for Bob at Public Advocates in 1981 while I was a third year law student. He was an extraordinary individual with a deep commitment to justice -- who understood better than most how to combine legal, political and media strategies to win cases and expand rights. Although I had not seen Bob for many years, he was and is a role model for me who helped shape my career and approach to public policy.
Jon Haber
Coworker
July 15, 2020
Bob was my boss when I was deputy health director for California. He always had confidence in me and guided me through the tough decisions I had to make every dayalways adding wisdom on principles of justice. He was my touch point when it came to interfacing with Gov. Brown and always offered sage advice. His guidance shaped my work ethic and understanding of people.
STEVEN PASSIN
Coworker
July 15, 2020
Claudia, Josh, Matt and family - I extend my heartfelt condolences to you all on the passing of your husband, father and grandfather. Bob was a brilliant, creative strategist for social justice, able to bring together diverse racial/ethnic leaders groups to achieve mutually shared employment, economic and community development goals. His mind was forever active, always figuring out new strategies and tactics to pressure corporate, banking, insurance and governmental leaders to be more responsive to marginalized communities. It was very difficult to say "no" or disagree with him whenever he launched a new activity to secure social justice. Working at Chinese for Affirmative Action, I deeply appreciated his support and insights, and the many opportunities to work with the Greenlining Coalition partners. We learned a lot from each other because Bob fostered alliances and collaboration to break down barriers to fairness and equality. For those of us who were able to know and work with him, we are better persons and community members because Bob demonstrated how one can deploy and leverage one's educational attainment for the Greater Good in the most fulfilling manner possible. With sympathy and fond memories of Bob - Henry Der
Henry Der
Friend
July 14, 2020
Weve just heard about Bobs passing. Our deepest condolences to Claudia, his sons and granddaughter, and to the many who called him a friend and colleague. We hope you find comfort in the knowledge that Bobs exemplary life, his many achievements and his enormous social justice legacy will live on.
David Bracker and Kathy Kenny
David Bracker and Kathy Kenny
Friend
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