A Name on a Stone: Helen Rand Parish

This plaque, for Helen Rand Parish, is unique in the park.  It is not on a bench.  It is on a stone.  Does anyone know why her memorial plaque is on a stone?

The inscription appears to say “Laissons Parler la Fantaisie” — Let the Imagination Speak.

The graphic image in the center, which resembles the number 5, is a mystery to me.  Can anyone help decipher it?


P.S. Dec. 31:  A Google search brings up this obituary in the SF Chronicle for Helen Rand Parish.  It describes her as “a Bay Area writer, linguist and social justice scholar who poured her considerable energy and intellect into promoting the works of a 16th century Spanish activist priest.”

Helen Rand Parish, obituary photo, S.F. Chronicle

The priest was Bartolome de las Casas, a Catholic missionary who traveled in and wrote about the “New World”  (new to the Europeans) and, importantly, criticized the atrocities committed by Spanish landowners against the Indians, and defended indigenous people’s rights.  He was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in the Spanish dominions and is considered one of the first defenders of human rights.  Parish began a campaign to have las Casas canonized.  She published several books on las Casas.  Parish lived in Berkeley near the UC campus from 1930 on, and died here in 2005.

Parish gave a presentation about las Casas in Los Angeles in 1992.  A journalist named Tom Bates covered the event for the Los Angeles Times, here.

Possibly the mysterious glyph on her plaque has some relation to las Casas and his time.

Helen Parish's memorial plaque is unique; it is not on a bench, but on a stone.
Helen Parish’s memorial plaque is unique; it is not on a bench, but on a stone.

7 thoughts on “A Name on a Stone: Helen Rand Parish

  • This is so beautiful. I paused at Helen’s rock this weekend and wondered about who she was. This background and the illuminated picture of her, brought tears to my eyes. The Marin is gift to us all. Thank you, Helen and Jim for your imagination and work to save it for others in the future.

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  • I so appreciate this post which reminds us how a caring, influential person can actually change our world – in fact, it only takes ONE!
    Palms joined…

  • The symbol on rock is Tibetan. Helen was also follower of Buddhism, while at same time working on de las Casas and social justice with priests and the Vatican in her research and who frequented Newman Center and the Jesuit private masses at their retreat on Northside.

    Important fact not reflected on plaque or in post to date:

    Helen saved the Berkeley Marina and what now is the park.

    Helen and environmental UCB scholar Jim single handedly saved the Marina (later designated Cesar Chavez Park) from the Santa Fe developers who finally got impatient and threw up their hands and left at the expensive, complicated environmental impact study (EIS) demands Helen and Jim wrote—impossible to live up to. Those EIS demands, continually upgraded, needed approval to impose on Santa Fe at contentious City Council meetings—drama supporting pro development tax revenue v. Berkeley preservationists.

    Without Helen and Jim, this wonderful park would have been fully developed into commercial operations, covered with hotels and commercial buildings, shoreline covered.

    After Helen’s death, we had a memorial to acknowledge Helen and her contribution saving the park, officiated by Loni Hancock who dedicated the plaque that we’d gained permission to anchor on that rock facing a view that reminded Helen of her beloved Lake Lugano when she did document research on de las Casas in Italy.

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