Marian Bergeson, pioneering Orange County politician, dies at 90

Marian Bergeson, a pioneering Orange County politician who was the first woman to serve both in the state Senate and Assembly, has died. She was 90.

Bergeson championed educational issues for much of her political career. But in the mid-1990s, as an Orange County supervisor, she helped guide the battered county government out of its bankruptcy.

For many accomplishments, Bergeson could make light of her trailblazing record. "People used to say, 'How can you deal with smoke filled-rooms?' I'd make them perfumed rooms," she told the Daily Pilot in 2015.

Bergeson, whose resume also included state secretary of education and Orange County supervisor,  died Wednesday morning at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, said former Mayor Evelyn Hart, a close friend. Bergeson had been battling pancreatic cancer.

“Marian was a great lady, and she’ll be missed, as she was an inspiration to women,” Hart said. “My best memories of her were the love she showed back to this community of Newport Beach … We all knew we could call on Marian when we needed her, even when when she was busy in Sacramento.”

Educational issues comprised much of Bergeson’s political career. But in the mid-1990s, as a county supervisor, she helped guide the battered county government out of its bankruptcy.

When she and her husband, Garth, moved to Newport Beach in the late 1950s, she saw leadership opportunities in the burgeoning community. In 1959 and 1960, Bergeson raised $1,200, went to City Hall and got the ball rolling on getting Mariner's Library built.

She won a seat on the local school board and became president of the California School Boards Assn.

In 1976, Jim Slemons, the Republican candidate for an Assembly seat in Orange County was accused of bringing pornography through U.S. Customs.

Bergeson, also a Republican, ran against Slemons but lost. She became a write-in candidate in the closing days of the general election, but that contest was eventually won by Democrat Ron Cordova.

In 1984, Bergeson won a seat in the state Senate. After her stint on the Board of Supervisors, she served as then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s education secretary. She went on to the California Board of Education.

An elementary school in Laguna Niguel was named for Bergeson. The aquatics center at Corona del Mar High School is also named for her.

Current Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon called Bergeson “an inspiration and a trail blazer” filled with optimism.

In addition to her husband, Bergeson is survived by three children. A daughter, Nancy, died in an unsolved murder in 2009.

Chan writes for Times Community News.

An earlier version of this story said Marian Bergeson won the primary and general election in 1976. In fact, she lost the primary to a fellow Republican, then ran as write-in candidate in the general election, which was won by Democrat Rob Cordova. It also stated that Bergeson won her seat in the Senate in 1986. It was 1984.
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