A valuable, full and rich, succulent word that brings to mind many
images. Sometimes, especially among
women, these images are of choices not taken or recognized, choices ignored, put
aside or postponed. One woman who
embraced choice – even when it might not have been viewed as an option – is
Faye D’Opal, who from an early age seemed to know that her destiny included
worlds larger than her immediate surroundings and experiences.
From living in rural Arkansas picking cotton and strawberries, to serving with
the Peace Corps as a volunteer and as senior staff, to becoming an
environmentalist, educator, Lawyer of the Year, peace activist, and inductee
into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame, the events in Faye’s life reflect
challenging and diverse paths. While
choosing to take a big bite out of what life has to offer, Faye has consistently
worked in collaboration with others to help build community and for social
change. For choosing to set these
kinds of goals and for her accomplishments in striving to meet them –which she
has- Faye was nominated and named to the Women’s Hall of Fame in the Year 2000
for her work in Social Change.
Faye says that her “grandmother was a wise woman”.
Her grandmother told her that each of her quilts carried a story related
to the births of her children, the death of some of her children, plants on the
farm, animals, the sunshine and rain; and, all of the patches in the quilts came
from materials that had been worn by someone or used in her home.
Her grandmother gave her valuable advice:
“I choose what pieces to add to my quilt so it reflects my stories.
Remember always to look at the choices you make as your choices will
shape and become your life”. Faye
was only a young girl of 13 or 14 then but that advice helped make her aware
that she had control over her own future.
“Over the years”, says Faye, “I have come to see a choice as a
thread, with my many choices – now of varying colors, textures, sizes,
strengths, patterns and rhythms – weaving the fabric of my life.
To this day, I spend some time “seeing” the threads that shaped me
and envisioning the weaving that is already shaping me for tomorrow.”
amidst rural poverty, Faye benefited from an extended community of family and
friends. Like her grandmother,
Faye’s parents helped set the course for her to persevere and be true to what
she felt was important. Her mother, an avid reader and singer, created a
learning environment in the home for the three girls and one boy.
Her father, a farmer, hunter/fisherman who later became a Methodist
minister, shared deep knowledge of the natural world’s plants, animals, and
rivers, especially with Faye and her older brother.
The family moved often because of the crop work and later when Faye’s
father rode the rural “circuit” as a preacher.
Her parents helped the children learn how to integrate themselves into a
new community, make new friends, and join in the life of the community.
These skills would be of significant value in Faye’s years with the
Faye’s family had little economic resources.
Neither parent had completed high school yet each one had deep interest
in learning and kept up with the issues of the day.
“Despite our economic poverty, I
was very fortunate to grow up with parents who loved me and encouraged me to
think and grow intellectually” she says.
While growing up, Faye, along with her siblings, understood that her
parents’ goal was for their children
to have an education and to have better life than they had had.
they lived in a number of different places in her growing up years, Faye met and
came to know people from all over the state.
“The kindness and support of some people I met left an indelible mark
on my perceptions and values, especially the ability of economically poor
individuals to deal with daily challenges of a tough and often harsh life with
humor and love for each other”.
In high school in the 1950’s, Faye was deeply influenced by the civil rights
movement sweeping the south, a
movement that had been growing since the turn of the century.
Faye and three of her high school classmates, joining with other student
groups, traveled to Little Rock to support the integration of Central High after
the Arkansas Governor called out the National Guard to try and stop integration.
The social issues raging in Arkansas during her high school and college
years deepened Faye’s commitments to honoring diversity, working to ensure
equal rights and justice for all.
Faye worked with and was friends with other young people from poor families. Her
awareness that education would help her get out of poverty grew as she completed
high school. It was in
1957-58 that Thurgood Marshall, a brilliant attorney already famous for his work
on behalf of the African-American community across the country and who went on
to become a U.S Supreme Court Justice, spoke at a gathering in Little Rock about
the responsibility of civil rights attorneys to help open and keep open the
doors of justice for all people. Listening
to his speech on the radio, this was the first time Faye thought about becoming
With the encouragement of her parents and sustained help from her high school
teachers, Faye applied for college. Through scholarships, loans, part-time work in the college
library and as recreation director on the weekends for the Arkansas Home for
mentally challenged children, Faye completed four years at Hendrix College in
Conway, Arkansas, graduating with a
Bachelor of Arts degree. The
college, with about 300 students, was and is nationally recognized for its
excellent education. “College was
a totally new cultural experience for me”, she says,
“Going from rural Arkansas to the college campus was like entering
another world. It took me a bit to
adapt to it”. Like many
other economically poor students in college then and today, she left college
with student debt, a debt that took over ten years for her to pay off.
Faye believed then and still does believe that poverty is an outcome of a flawed
economic system, with negative
consequences for the health of individuals and society in general.
She also believes that systemic poverty limits and in many cases
eliminates opportunities for an individual to explore and develop talents and
interests, further depriving our communities of productive, creative, healthy
members. “If there is anything positive about poverty”, she says,
“ it may be that it promotes compassion toward other individuals who daily
confront oppressions and difficulties not of their own making. However, I do
not think that is a good enough reason to continue to design or support
economic, social and political systems whose outcomes include poverty for many,
In her last year at college, Faye decided to leave the south, to go to New York
City to experience a place that seemed to welcome all kinds of people and where
there were jobs with exciting things to see and do.
She borrowed two hundred dollars from a friend of her parents, and the
day after graduation, she took a Greyhound bus to New York City, looking to
fulfill her dream of living in Greenwich Village and becoming a writer.
Through a friend, Faye had obtained an introduction from Arkansas Senator
William Fulbright to the International Women’s House on 14th Street
in the Village. Faye rented a room
there for nine dollars a week, obtained a night shift job with Delta Airlines at
59th & Madison within five days of being in the city, and spent
her days exploring and absorbing what the City had to offer, visiting tourist
sites, music halls, the libraries, museums, and touring a bit of
New England (never dreaming that years later she would return to live in
Rhode Island for a year). As a job perk with Delta, Faye was able to fly to Memphis,
connect with her mother and the two of them flew on to Los Angeles so that her
mother could visit with her sister who lived there. It was the first time either one of them had ridden in an
airplane. “New York City was
fascinating – stimulating, but crowded, and excepting the bay/rivers and
Central Park, access to nature was very limited”. Even so, riding on the subway several months later in
late April, 1963, Faye saw a notice
about Peace Corps, and on a whim, the next day she called them and requested an
application. She applied.
Much to her surprise, the first part of June, she was on her way to Peace
Corps training in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Albuquerque was startlingly different from Arkansas and New York.
Faye loved the open spaces, the climate and the people.
Training consisted of three
parts: Intensive Spanish lessons
and Latin American history studies; living in a small New Mexico rural village;
and, completion of an “Outward Bound” type program in the Sandia mountains.
Faye lived in Penasco
and spent three weeks there practicing Spanish.
While surviving the mountain hiking in the Outward Bound program was not
difficult for Faye, climbing up vertical rock walls and walking across open
spaces on ropes was. “The whole experience provoked us to develop new skills,
to face our fears and conquer at least some of them, and strengthened our
respective levels of self confidence of how we would act in new and different
Faye was assigned to work in ‘public health education and community
development’ in Usiacuri, a small town on Colombia’s north coast.
Faye says, “I was in total
culture shock for about three months. The
language was rapid fire coastal Spanish; it was over a hundred degrees every day
with a hundred degrees of humidity; and, poverty of a nature even more severe
than in Arkansas dominated the town”.
Usiacuri was a hilly village with about 8000 people.
Electricity and running water were available in very few homes, and
thatched pole houses provided shelter for most of the villagers. “I had to figure out where I fit in, “ she says, “so I
made a map of the pathways through the village and every day I would walk,
introducing myself to people, learning where they lived, and where various
landmarks of the village were. The
people were warm and welcoming. The
villagers had not personally met an American, let alone ever have one live in
their village. From my house on one
of the main walkways through the village, every couple of days, I would carry a
pail to the well, which was two miles away, or, on really hot days, 110 and
above, I would hire a young boy who had a burro to carry the pail for me. Along the way I would stop and talk, learning more and more
Spanish. Every day I went to the
health center, a very small room of about 300 square feet, to talk with mothers
who would come by the center. A
nurse, my Colombian counterpart, came once a month
to check on how things were going regarding Colombia’s public health
initiative—to improve infant care, particularly getting parents to boil water
before giving it to babies and small children to drink; and, to reduce
gastroenteritis and malnutrition.”
Faye noted that part of the problem with the boiling water project was the lack
of running water, lack of electricity and the coastal hills did not have lots of
trees for burning. The north coast
does receive significant rain fall during the year and the idea of an aqueduct
was talked about with some of the leaders.
After the mayor, police chief, priest and a few others including Faye
went to Barranquilla, the “county” seat, to talk with the Department of
Water, help was obtained to get the materials for an aqueduct throughout the
village. One of the Water
Department employees came out to the village and showed them how to lay the
pipes. From the layout of the
village he designed 20 water stations so that anyone in the village could walk a
short distance to pump fresh water. With
the work of over 150 villagers, the ditches for the pipes and installation of
pumps was completed in about three months.
Faye wrote to the World Health Organization to see if they had small oil
stoves that could be used in the health center boiling water project. A number of oil stoves were donated; mothers were trained to
use them and after a baby was 1-2 years old, the oil stove came back to the
health center for use by another mother. The
idea spread because the villagers could see for themselves that clean water
helped their babies. In the
same period of time, CARE provided the health center with powdered milk and the
mothers organized the project so that every family in the village had powdered
milk every week.
Faye started working with regional organizations interested in improving
people’s lives with economic development projects.
Cooperatives- electric, agricultural, crafts - were being promoted
through the government in Bogota, the Alliance for Progress and the Agency for
International Development. In
Usiacuri, a small number of women wove baskets and other containers from straw.
“The straw is from the Colombian plains, a delicate yet very strong
straw. I believe it grows no where
else on the planet”, Faye noted. Faye
and a couple of other Peace Corps volunteers went to Bogota, the capital, to
learn more about the national craft cooperative.
Returning to Usiacuri to share the information about the cooperative
ideas, in a few months, the women weavers established their own cooperative, marketing the products
through the national cooperative to retail stores throughout the Americas.
After a year or so, the villagers organized to get the materials for and
then build a cement block building which became the craft coop office and
storage site. At the site, they
installed an outdoor toilet, benches and space for a new health clinic.
The fact that women were making income from their weavings had a big
impact on the village. When Faye returned to the village in 1972, almost a
hundred individuals were part of the cooperative and their weavings were still
selling very well.
When Faye was in training to go to Colombia, she and the handful of women
volunteers were to be the first women assigned to rural areas and the trainers
warned them about the obstacles of being women in the culture there.
One example: At the time
Faye had long hair and she was told to cut her hair short because “Colombian
men loved women with long hair and there might be trouble if her hair was not
cut”. Faye did cut her hair, but
after living in Usiacuri a short while, she realized that the warnings were not
necessarily realistic, at least for her.
The women that Faye met in Usiacuri were expected to stay and work at
home. The women did not have equal
opportunity for education or for jobs. In
general, they did not have an opportunity to explore and develop their own
interests and talents. Part of the
success of the weaving business was that it helped provide the weavers
with some income and some opportunity. “I know that as an American, I
had privileges and protections that the villagers did not have. And, I did not
experience the hardships experienced by the women in Usiacuri.
From my friendships with them, I
did learn that as people we had the same desires – to not live in poverty,
to live in a caring community, to be healthy, and for the children to
have education and a better life.”
The Department of Health of Colombia has identified Usiacuri as a village
that they thought should be assigned a Peace Corps Volunteer for the public
health initiative. Just as that
project grew successfully, so did other community projects accomplished by and
with the work of the villagers. These community self help projects strengthened
everyone in the village, including the young people.
“I would go to the county seat to talk with personnel in the Health
Department or other similar entities, and I would take community leaders, men
and women, with me so they too learned how to access the resources, and the
local bus drivers would give us a free ride to the county seat.
When a regional conference or program was going on that was about
cooperatives or other helpful information, we would get a group from the village
to go so we could all learn. It was a very dynamic process for all of us”.
Individuals came from all parts of the village to work together for the
common good. Learning to get access
to resources, to use resources well and to not destroy resources was part of the
process. The community development
in Usiacuri was organic and local. One
of the greatest events in Usiacuri as defined by one of its leaders, Faye says,
happened when a small village, Aguas Vivas,
located about five hours hike away from Usiacuri, sent their leaders to
ask the leaders in Usiacuri to come help them get organized in their village.
Faye also says, “I will always remember where I was the day that
President John F. Kennedy was shot. It
was late afternoon and two villagers came running down the pathway to the health
center, very upset, and told me that I should go to Barranquilla to hear the
news because my President had been shot. The
mayor of the village declared two days of mourning and lowered the Colombian
flag in a very touching ceremony.
After her stay in Colombia, Faye was assigned as an associate director of
Peace Corps in Costa Rica. During
her tenure there, Peace Corps volunteers, working in partnership with the Costa
Rican government, helped survey the geographical areas throughout the country
that would become the basis for the National Parks of Costa Rica; and, the
strategic planning process of Peace
Corps Costa Rica was undertaken and implemented in partnership with Costa Rican
public and community leaders, a part of that process supporting the National
Community Development Act that established a department of community development
funding it with an annual percent of the corporate tax revenues.
These funds then became available to villages and communities engaged in
self help projects of improvement.
years later, Faye returned to Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., where she served
as a program & training chief in the Latin American Region.
While there, Faye met Robert, a
former Peace Corps volunteer from Chile. After
their marriage, they moved to Brazil. While
in Brazil, Yara, Faye’s oldest daughter, was born.
Faye says, “Brazil was and remains a spectacular country, its people,
language, food and music are just wonderful even as poverty was and remains a
substantial problem throughout the country.”
Returning from Brazil, she and her family moved first to Rhode Island
where her husband was in the marine fisheries program at the University of Rhode
Island, and then moved to Seattle where Faye’s youngest daughter, Erika, was
born. Faye continued
her work in supporting and developing cooperatives, became active in the
women’s movement including attending the first women’s conference in Boston
for abortion rights, and provided daily care for the two children.
In some respects during these years with her young children, Faye’s
focus shifted from a global reference point to a very personal one with the
growth of her daughters. With
opportunities to attend seminars and meet people like John Holt, Jonathan Kozol,
read books about childrens’ learning environments including Piaget, Summerhill
and Montessori, and keep up with some of ‘right brain/left brain’ studies,
Faye was highly motivated to have her children participate in dynamic learning
environments, “especially those focused around the natural world as children
are very responsive to the natural world”.
For job reasons, the family moved from Seattle to Florida, then to Idaho,
and then to California, settling in San Anselmo.
Faye continued her work in education and ecology including as a parent
administrator with a small community school and also in home schooling.
With the seashores, Yosemite, and camping trips to Mt. Whitney and other
outdoor sites as the classroom, Faye’s children along with others developed
academic skills and knowledge. Classes
at regional resources including the Exploratorium, the Lawrence Hall of Science,
Conservatory of Music and the De Young Museum art programs augmented the
childrens’ activities and circle of friends.
When the children reached middle school years, Faye decided to go to law
As Faye’s life continued to unfold, her philosophy for working in
community with others on important issues evolved.
“I went to law school because I wanted to work for equal rights and to
help improve our legal systems. I
have learned that the vast majority of people, no matter the culture, want
healthy, creative, productive, and joyful lives.
I seek to make personal and professional choices that support a world
free of violence & wars, free from poverty, sexism, racism, ageism, classism,
and homophobia. I think we all must
work to ensure that public policies result in equal opportunity and positive outcomes for all members of our community, not just
Faye wanted integrity in her choices, and to be mindful of the
consequences of her choices, including their ecological impacts. “It helps to
understand the consequences of your choices and be accountable for your
actions”, she says. “Trying
to live through choices based on principles and values that respect the earth,
promote peace and justice for everyone is important to me”.
says that her choices and life experiences have made her more aware of the
importance of being informed about the issues around the world, of the value of
helping keep our natural world healthy, and,
about what it means to be a human by
living in and learning from diverse cultures.”
Like most of us these days, Faye could claim to be intensely busy, yet
perhaps have a hard time to remember even some things she did the week before. “I’m too busy,” she says.
“ I need time to assimilate and reflect
on life and just be-ing.”
Faye indeed has been busy. She
has run a private law practice in Marin County for fifteen years, provided many
hours of pro bono legal services to the poor, primarily women and children, and
served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Her Spanish and
Portuguese language skills come in handy in all her legal and community work.
graduated from a public interest law school, having served over 600 hours of
apprenticeship public interest legal work prior to graduation.
Her first job as an attorney was for Legal Aid of Marin, working on
housing issues and domestic violence cases.
Faye has volunteered her time to the YWCA legal clinic for many years.
She served in leadership positions on the boards of various nonprofit
organizations including Legal Aid of Marin, Marin Abused Women’s Services,
YWCA of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo, National Women’s Political Caucus,
and The Ensemble Theater. She is also the Legal Director at the Legal Self Help
Center of Marin, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to self
represented litigants who cannot afford an attorney and provides legal
information for all.
acknowledges the irony of living and working in such an affluent community as
Marin. “This is a beautiful part
of the country and I love living near the bay.
Still, there are large pockets of poverty here, and much work to be done,
especially with our young children, and ensuring that there is equal opportunity
for education and good wages for everyone.”
Faye has served as settlement panelist and small claims appeal pro tem
judge for the Marin Superior Court. She
has developed and presented legal materials on various topics including domestic
violence for advocates, police departments and service agencies. Faye served three years as a member of the Marin County Bar
Association Board of Directors. She
served as a member and now current Chair of the Administration of Justice
Committee, and has been a member of various other Bar Association committees
over the years. She has been a
director of the Marin County Women Lawyers for over a decade, including serving
as Treasurer for the past seven years. For
five years, Faye served as a Commissioner on the Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Commission, appointed to the commission by the Marin
She has a general legal practice including property, contracts, living
trusts & wills, probate, and family law.
“Individual attorneys can make a difference,” Faye says.
“I want to help my clients
solve a legal problem and in the process have them learn about the legal tools
and the law so that they can gain greater access to the legal system.
We need to improve the legal literacy in our community, especially among
young people just coming out of high school.
Having effective access to the legal system should not cost an arm and a
Faye was recognized as Lawyer of the Year in 1995 by the Marin County Bar
Association. She received the Wiley
W. Manuel Pro Bono Award from the State Bar of California for three years; the
County of Marin Human Rights Commission’s 1993 Martin Luther King, Jr.
Humanitarian Award for outstanding achievement in human and civil rights; the
Beyond War Award for Achievement in the Peace Corps, appears in Who’s Who in
the Peace Corps in 1993 and 1997; and, she was named one of the Marin
Independent Journal’s “People to Watch” in 1996 and 1997.
In 1998, Faye found time, interest and enthusiasm to run for Judge of the
Marin court. Although she did not
win, she did not rule out another try. She
sees a great need for restorative justice models for our juveniles, including a
teen peer court and teen drug court. She
would like to see a domestic violence court and an adult drug court.
Faye was energized by the campaign:
“I met people in their homes and communities throughout the county.
In listening to their concerns and questions, I learned a great deal. I found that voters were keenly interested in the legal
issues of our community. Their
questions helped me as an attorney to better understand why community outreach
and education is needed so that voters better understand the courts and the
legal system. I enjoyed sharing my
opinions about matters, sometimes being too blunt probably.
I think every one at one time or another should run for a local office.
It is a wonderful way to learn about our community.”
Faye’s choices have also included choosing a personal life that evolved
dramatically over the years. She
and her husband divorced, and Faye has lived the past eighteen years with her
woman partner, Wanden. Wanden, an
attorney in private practice, is currently a member of the Marin County
Community College District Board of Trustees. A founding member of the Triangle
Alliance of Marin, Faye has worked to help gain equal rights for lesbians and
Faye is very proud that each of her children graduated from Redwood High
School and from University of California graduate schools, and that each is a
healthy, creative, beautiful and productive young woman. Faye tries to catch time on a regular basis to spend a summer
afternoon sailing a Sunfish off San Quentin, camping in the Sierras and hanging
out with friends and family. This
past December, she and Wanden spent six days driving a car from Marin County to
Guatemala City for a friend who lived there.
Faye says, “It was an awesome trip.
I loved being back in Mexico and Guatemala environs and the wonderful
people. I am glad I have kept my
Spanish in working order.”
Faye also continues her independent work on issues related to world peace
and the elimination of poverty. Influenced
by Buckminister Fuller, she has been thinking about system designs.
“What are the design elements in our social, political and economic
systems that contribute to some of the negative outcomes that we are
experiencing in our country?” she asks. Another way of looking at it, Faye says:
“Let’s assume that the Outcomes that we want from all the government
policies and use of our tax money are non-violent problem solving strategies and
world peace, quality education for every one, livable wages for all workers,
effective stewardship of the natural world, sustainable businesses, a
nurturance of creativity in each person, and
effective health care systems.” The
question, then, is “what are the design elements that we need to change in our
existing social, political and economic systems in order to accomplish each of
those outcomes? Or, what would
governance look like in this country if we the people expected our government to
produce these desired outcomes?” She
pauses, and with good humor, says “ Much to think about and much yet to do!”
honored to be included with all the other women named to the Marin County Hall
of Fame. Beside the great honor,
Faye also sees the Hall of Fame as a celebration.
believe we celebrate that we have opportunities and choices that our mothers and
grandmothers did not have. We
also celebrate that women are not as invisible as we once were.
We get together and celebrate that we have learned that we can have some
control over our own lives. We celebrate that our efforts help shape a
collective reality, making an importance difference in the quality of our lives
and our community.”