Claudia Murphy Whitnah
January 14, 1925 – October 7, 2018
Well-known, long time Martinez teacher and active citizen, Claudia Whitnah, died on October 7, 2018 after a long and productive life. She was 93.
Born in Oakland, she grew up in Berkeley graduating from Berkeley High Class of 1941. After three years at UC Berkeley where she was editor of its famous humor magazine, “The Pelican”, Claudia transferred to New York University and shared a Manhattan apartment with her actor brother, the late Ben Murphy, thoroughly engrossing herself in the excitement of big city life. Following graduation, she worked at Life Magazine before returning to the Bay Area. There she married Lionel Whitnah to whom she was married for three years.
After obtaining an elementary teaching credential, Claudia taught in San Pablo, Antioch and West Pittsburg before coming to the Martinez Elementary School District in 1954. She taught at Montecito for two years and then transferred to Martinez Elementary where she taught 6th grade and 1st grade for a total of 27 years. Her former students still talk about her classes with great pleasure. Always a union participant, Claudia served as Grievance Chairperson for the Martinez Education Association. After retirement, she continued to teach, organizing a Humanities class at the Senior Center through the Martinez Adult School featuring lively discussions on a variety of social topics.
During retirement, Claudia enjoyed traveling with her closest friend, Sylva Dajani and their dogs. She became interested in Martinez politics and was a fixture in the front row at all City Council meetings. She became a member of Communities for a Safe Environment, working to establish a sense of local responsibility for the environment.
In the 1970s Claudia served on the board of the newly formed Martinez Historical Society. Thirty years later in her 90s, she volunteered weekly at the Contra Costa County History Center. Throughout the years, Claudia participated in Lioness, Friends of the Library and the County Commission on Aging. One of her most challenging and interesting experiences was her term as a member of the Contra Costa Grand Jury in 2007-08 utilizing her great mind and social conscience as she and her fellow jurors investigated County government operations and developed recommendations for the Board of Supervisors.
In 2014 Claudia was awarded the Martinez Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the community as a teacher, an environmentalist, a recovering alcoholic and a worker and supporter of many local organizations and their fundraisers for over 60 years. Claudia is survived by Marcia Kent of Martinez, whom Claudia called “her daughter by choice” and Marcia’s husband, Nick Riley as well as a host of Martinez friends, admirers and former students.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 1 p.m. at Connolly and Taylor Mortuary. Memorial donations may be made to Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa, P. O. Box 3195, Martinez, CA 94553. And to Martinez Lioness Club Hospital Equipment Lending Program, P. O. Box 765, Martinez, CA 94553.