Liz Basile, a longtime local political activist viewed widely as the matriarch of the Sonoma County Democratic Party, died Saturday at her Santa Rosa home, family members said. She was 89.
Basile was in hospice care and died from heart failure, according to two of her daughters.
An educator by training with a long history of civic engagement, Basile was highly active in Sonoma County politics and community life long past her retirement from Casa Grande High School in 1992. She served on the central committee of the county Democratic Party, as well as the California Teachers Association and the Santa Rosa Democratic Club, among other groups.
Friends and family remembered Basile as an inspiring leader and mentor whose presence loomed large in the community.
“As far as I’m concerned, she was the Democratic Party maven of Sonoma County. She was somebody that everybody looked up to,” said Bleys Rose, the former chairman of the county Democratic Party. “Her stature in the community was like seven times her height. Everybody knew her, everybody looked to her for approval and opinions and just sort of guidance as far as what to do in the Democratic Party.”
Prior to her death, Basile’s life work was honored with awards and proclamations from every level of government and community groups on which she had left her mark. Many of them were presented to her before she died, during one of two life celebration events hosted at her home.
“She’s the only person I’ve ever known who could walk into a room, and it doesn’t matter what the room was — every elected official in the room would move over to her and speak with her. Republicans, Democrats alike,” said Stephen Gale, district representative for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who knew Basile for many years. “She was so well known and involved in civic affairs.”
Born Dec. 2, 1927, in Stockton, Elizabeth Rose Basile spent her childhood in Brooklyn until moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.
Basile lived for more than three decades in Los Angeles and Whittier, marrying twice and having four children. She pursued higher education when she was 30, earning a master’s degree in reading specialization from California State University, Los Angeles.
Basile was originally a registered Republican who voted for Dwight Eisenhower for president, according to her daughter Gail, Basile-Wiffler. But the elder Basile’s party affiliation was forever changed thanks to former President John F. Kennedy, whom Basile met at one point.
“(Kennedy) really spurred her to be politically active,” said Basile-Wiffler, 69, of Santa Rosa. “She was mesmerized.”
Basile relocated from Whittier to Sonoma County in 1974, following Basile-Wiffler, who had previously moved to the area. She taught English, public speaking and English as a second language reading at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, where she remained until her retirement.
Friends said Basile was a mentor in the Sonoma County community who was influential in local politics.
Gale recalled one instance in 2008, shortly after he was elected chairman of the county Democratic Party, when the party did not have enough money to open a campaign headquarters to support Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. Gale set a goal of raising $10,000 in 30 days.
“Literally everybody in the room was very silent until Liz stood up and said ‘By God, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do it in less than 30 days,’” Gale said. “She basically was the voice of activism that caused us to commit to do that.”
The party ultimately raised a little less than $15,000 in 20 days, Gale said.
Longtime friend Pat Sabo, who knew Basile through their mutual involvement in Sonoma County teachers and political groups, said Basile was a devoted precinct walker who loved going door to door to speak with voters. As she got older, however, she became physically unable to do it, according to Sabo.
But age could not stop her activism.
“She became an avid phone banker,” Sabo said. “Because of the age limitations with the precinct-walking,” she said, ‘It doesn’t mean I can’t do things.’”
Basile also continued attending every fundraiser, event and community function possible, even after she stopped driving, said Sandy Reynolds, president of the Santa Rosa Democratic Club.
“I called it the ‘Liz team,’” Reynolds said. “Whatever the local events were, she would get a ride. ... She was really, really active and participated. You could count on her voice to be heard and be supportive.”
In addition to Basile-Wiffler, Basile is survived by two daughters: Catherine Heselius, 61, of San Clemente, and Jeri Silva, 57, of Windsor.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.