|Posted on April 27, 2022|
|The third mayor of Moraga, Merle Gilliland, is remembered|
|By Vera Kochan|
|Merle Gilliland Photo Provided|
The town of Moraga was incorporated in 1974 and one of its citizens, Merle Gilliland, played an important role in this. After serving on the first city council for two terms, Gilliland, who died on March 31, became the third mayor of Moraga in 1976.
In addition to using his architectural skills to design the city’s seal, Gilliland has worked on several projects in Moraga and the Bay Area (San Francisco International Airport). As a member of the very first city council, he was instrumental in drafting ordinances, plans, and the eventual establishment of the Moraga Police Department. In 1976, Gilliland and his fellow council members received a city certification plaque from Governor Ronald Reagan recognizing Moraga’s incorporation. They were also the original five council members who were instrumental in preserving the area now known as Moraga Commons Park for family recreation.
Former colleague and fourth mayor of the city (1977), Susan McNulty-Rainey said: “We were a close group. We all continued to meet after our board duties. color of the city ordinance.” She remembers Gilliland as “a wonderful man who gave a lot of his time and used his talents as an architect to help us.”
“It was a pleasure to work with Merle,” recalls Barry Gross, the city’s fifth and 11th mayor (1978 and 1983), who also served with Gilliland on city council. “He was very talented. He had the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. His loss is deeply felt, I’m sure, by everyone who knew him outside of his family.”
Betty, Gilliland’s wife of 64 years, has fond memories of their stay in Moraga. If they have since moved to Montana, she also remembers the proximity of the first elected officials of the city and their families. “We had a great time with the city council. We got along so well – it was a blessing.”
Gilliland will be remembered by many for his sense of humor and his injection of fun into the city. His wife remembered when Saint Mary’s College held a 4th of July event and she was responsible for baking 14 cakes for the occasion. She enlisted one of their daughters to help frost all the cakes which eventually lost their enthusiasm after finishing a few. Enter Gilliland who not only helped frost the rest of the cakes, but once the job was done he waged a frosting war with his daughter all over the kitchen.
Before the Pear Harvest existed, Gilliland had arranged with the owner of Nation’s Bakery to bake pear pies for sale at the Pear Festival. He went to the orchards every year and picked pears by hand to personally deliver them to the bakery.
Borrowing from Gilliland’s obituary, “Through times both difficult and joyful, Merle created lightness through laughter, bringing smiles to those around her. It was through these relationships and memories that Merle’s legacy will live on with pride and confidence.”