My interview with Barbara Schaaf, mother of newly inaugurated Oakland mayor Libby, began with a game of phone tag. Barbara left me a sweet voicemail, saying she’d be happy to speak to me but with the caveat that: “I’m not really quite that interesting, I’m afraid. Well, my husband says I’m interesting.” Despite her modesty, I found Barbara to be quite interesting, as well as charming, funny and kind.
Where did Barbara Schaaf grow up?
Barbara Schaaf grew up in a small farm town outside Chicago. After attending college in the South, she began a job as a stewardess that eventually led to her settling down with her husband in San Francisco, and eventually, Oakland. She has now lived in Oakland for 51 years, where our new mayor was born and raised. Barbara, in her words, “dragged her daughter along” as a child to the many volunteer efforts in which she was involved, giving Libby a jumpstart on community organizing.
Was Libby always a leader?
Libby was a leader from a young age, getting her start as an active member of Girl Scouts with her mother. “One of the mothers was describing that she always saw Libby leading kids, some of that came out early.” Their active Girl Scout troop held mini fundraisers at Fairyland and had flag ceremonies at the Coliseum. She speaks with pride of Libby’s involvement in the community, “She goes to different churches every Sunday, her mother never took her to church! That’s because I found out the Raiders played on Sundays.”
So what’s it like to be the mother of the new mayor of Oakland?
“Once she got into it, it was amazing all the people who came out supporting her, it was overwhelming. Even now you can’t pick up the newspaper without reading about her and it’s always positive.” Barbara spoke glowingly of Libby’s husband and children, and described an extended family that came together to help out with the kids to support Libby in her mayoral dream. Of course, ever humble, Barbara insisted it was mostly Libby’s husband, “who is wonderful with a capital W” and that she didn’t do enough. Again, her husband gently disagreed with her self-deprecation. “My husband is frowning at me. He thinks I do enough.”
How do you support Libby?
Barbara was one of Libby’s biggest supporters during the campaign. “I held up signs and jumped around and stuff, it is kind of fun when you talk about the campaign to people and then you say, ‘and she’s my daughter!’” Barbara spends her time volunteering in Lakeside Park and doing projects with local children in the community. She is in love with Oakland, saying of our city, “I love the positive energy, when I step off an airplane I feel it.” She loves the diversity in not just race and culture, but in age, jobs and interests. Barbara and her husband go out to lunch with two other couples every Friday, trying as many new restaurants as they can.
So what does “wear your voice” mean to Barbara Schaaf?
“Not being afraid to be who you are or say what you think.” Barbara is happy with how her daughter has worn her voice, from law school to Oakland City Council to the mayor’s office. She had these finals words to say about her daughter, “I am very proud of her. If there’s a stronger word than proud, that’s what I am.”