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Louis Brathwaite, City & Civic Leader

By Diana Sevanian
and Marci Wormser
Signal Staff Writers

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Louis Brathwaite
L
ongtime community leader Louis Elcania Brathwaite died Tuesday in Santa Clarita from a heart attack he sustained the day before.
    A onetime member of the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board, Brathwaite, 68, was involved with the 1987 drive to create the city of Santa Clarita and went on to become a planning commissioner where he influenced local development decisions.
    "He took interest in everything he did," said former Mayor Carl Boyer, who befriended Brathwaite in the late 1960s. "He threw himself into community affairs without any real regard for himself."
    Born April 25, 1933, in New York City, Brathwaite served in management positions with the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1990 after 38 years of service. He was also a member of the U.S. Naval Air Reserve and, outside his government job, he designed office furniture and sold personal computers.
    Brathwaite moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1969 and quickly amassed a list of civic accomplishments.
    "He was a man of strength, integrity and courage, and he cared very much about the school board," said former Mayor Clyde Smyth, who was superintendent of the high school district during Brathwaite's board term. "He was on the board when we went through some very hard times financially."
    Smyth said Brathwaite faced problems squarely and elicited support from the community to find ways to solve them.
    "He was open, he listened and was a strong representative, particularly of the Saugus area, which was the area (where) he lived," Smyth said.
    The two also worked together on the board of the SCV Boys and Girls Club, where Brathwaite chaired the committee that oversaw club facilities.
    "He had a lot of integrity and was tremendously honest and forthright," Smyth said.
    Connie Worden-Roberts, another board member, said Brathwaite "was very involved in putting in the headquarters of the Boys and Girls Club in Newhall," and said he "would have loved to have been present at the opening of the Sierra Vista (branch), but it won't be opening for two years."
    Brad Berens, executive director of the SCV Committee on Aging, said Brathwaite's work with the SCV Senior Center and the Boys and Girls Club put him at "the two ends of the spectrum of the population in need, and (he) brought both toward the middle."
    As a board member for the Committee on Aging, Brathwaite helped acquire land from The Newhall Land and Farming Co. for the Bouquet Canyon Seniors housing complex, Berens said.
    "Louis was the single brain child of the Bouquet Canyon Senior housing," Berens said, explaining that the project was Brathwaite's idea.
    Boyer recalled when Brathwaite was a member of the parent advisory committee for Saugus High School and was asked to run for school board.
    "He went to talk with Ruth Newhall, then editor of The Signal, to discuss his candidacy," Boyer said. "Ruth thought it was interesting and said he would be represented as the first black candidate for political office in the Santa Clarita Valley — but Louis said he would rather not (be characterized that way)."
    Newhall complied with Brathwaite's wishes, Boyer said, and Brathwaite went on to win the election.
    U.S Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon met Brathwaite when McKeon was running for the Hart school board in the late 1970s.
    "Louis just loved to discuss things," said McKeon, R-Santa Clarita. "We had long (school board) meetings because he wanted to fully explore every issue."
    "He set patterns for others to follow," McKeon said. "No man is an island. No man stands alone. Each of us can either be a participant or a watcher. Louis was a participant who always made the world a better place or at least attempted to try. He was a good guy and I am sorry he is gone."
    Brathwaite would play an important role in city formation effort when he successfully lobbied the late supervisor Kenneth Hahn to support the city's application, and convinced Hahn to attend a decisive meeting.
    "It was the first meeting Hahn had been to in seven months because of his stroke. Louis was responsible for getting him there," said Boyer, one of two city formation committee chairs.
    Brathwaite was also instrumental in securing $3 million from the county for the new city, he said.
    Brathwaite ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the first City Council, and Boyer appointed his friend to the planning commission when it was created in 1988.
    "He had worked long and hard planning issues as (president of the Monteverde Homeowners Association)," Boyer said. "I had confidence that he would represent the point of view of people who wanted to be very careful about growth."
    Brathwaite remained on the planning commission until health concerns prompted him to retire in 1998. No one else has served as long.
    "I believe that local citizens must have access to local officials and a voice in local issues," Brathwaite said in a 1987 Signal interview.
    When he again ran for City Council in 1996, Brathwaite said he wished to "continue the vision of building a new city run by the citizens and not by big businesses or sticky-fingered politicians; to provide an environment where people can feel free and safe, with good schools, plenty of parks and cultural pursuits."
    Santa Clarita Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy said Brathwaite was a proponent of environmentally friendly, quality growth rather than just simply growth.
    "He left a huge mark on the community and we'll always be proud of him," said Darcy, who noted that his widow, Mary, "worked alongside him in many things."
    Worden-Roberts served with Brathwaite on the inaugural planning commission.
    "His concerns were primarily those with children and parks and the need to achieve the kind of balance with all communities in the city," Worden-Roberts said.
    Current Mayor Laurene Weste remembered him as "a wonderful advocate for the arts and a strong community advocate."
    One unfulfilled goal was the establishment of a performing arts center on undeveloped city property near the intersection of Soledad and Bouquet Canyon roads.
    "He was very interested in the performing arts," said City Manager George Caravalho, noting that Brathwaite took his responsibility as a planning commissioner "very seriously" and was on the board that approved a development agreement for the proposed Porta Bella housing project in the mid-1990s.
    Former Mayor Jan Heidt characterized Brathwaite as a "dear man" who never got the recognition that he deserved, probably because "he was very humble, and he didn't go around blowing his own horn."
    A week before his death Brathwaite completed his autobiography, "Black Man's Job, White Man's World," chronicling his accomplished career with the federal government at a time when blacks were rarely found in positions of responsibility.
    "(In his early years) Louis had to work twice as hard at everything to be accepted like anyone else," said Boyer, who helped edit the book. "But it made him into a guy who achieved a tremendous amount in life."
    Boyer — himself a published author who is working on a book about city incorporation — said that as he read Brathwaite's text, he realized Brathwaite had been "typed" as a black man throughout his professional career. Although he was born into a stable, middle-class family and grew up in the same neighborhood as baseball great Willie Mays and singer Diahann Carroll, this casting posed a challenge, since some assumed him less able, Boyer said.
    Ultimately Brathwaite was pivotal in bringing the Equal Employment Opportunities Act to the U.S. Navy, Boyer said.

    Brathwaite is survived by his widow Mary, her daughter Valerie, his daughter Neshia, their son Louis II, and grandchildren Kate, Akira, and posthumously Taráz. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the SCV Boys and Girls Club or the SCV Committee on Aging. Funeral arrangements are pending.


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