Stephanie Munoz, advocate for the needy, dead at age 86

Longtime Palo Altan Stephanie Munoz died Aug. 1. Photo provided by her family.

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

Stephanie Munoz, a longtime Palo Altan who frequently spoke at City Council meetings to champion the cause of the less fortunate, has died at age 86.

Munoz is likely known to residents for her three-minute speeches during the council’s open microphone segment and her frequent letters to the editor, but what was less known was that she practiced what she preached.

For instance, on Thanksgiving day, she would hand out turkey sandwiches to the poor who often sleep at night on VTA bus 22 that travels across the county, according to her family.

Friends and family got together Sunday (Aug. 4) afternoon in her apartment at 101 Alma to say goodbye. According to her daughters, she had wanted the entire City Council to visit her bedroom. The bedroom, about 200 square feet, has an adjoining bathroom and a patio on the other side where she had plants. Munoz felt that many such small homes could be built for seniors at an affordable cost in an attempt to keep residents from being priced out of Palo Alto, her daughter Theresa Munoz said.

Stephanie Munoz bedroom. She wanted City Council members to visit this room to see how a senior could live comfortably with about 200 square feet of space. Post photo by Dave Price.

Of course, her apartment had other rooms, such as a kitchen, living room and dining area. But Munoz felt those rooms could be shared by many people and that all a person would need for themself is a 200-square-foot room with a bathroom and patio.

“For her, this was like a paradise,” said daughter Cristina Munoz.

Munoz died in her sleep on Thursday (Aug. 1) in that room, according to Theresa Munoz. The cause is believed to be heart failure.

Munoz was a fixture at council meetings. Her issues were generally housing, health care and justice.

“Her values were deeply Christian. Love thy neighbor as thy self and the meek will inherit the earth,” said Theresa Munoz.

When it came to housing, she supported the tenants of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park when that development was threatened with redevelopment. She was also a vocal supporter of the car campers.

Years ahead of her time

And, about three years ago, she began saying that when the Cubberley Community Center is re-developed, it ought to include teacher housing. At the time, nobody was talking about that. Then this spring, it was formally proposed as an option.

Another cause for Munoz was recycling, and in death, she practiced what she preached. She donated her body to UCSF’s medical school, her daughters said.

The only council member at yesterday’s memorial on the seventh floor of 101 Alma was Lydia Kou, who said she appreciated Munoz’s institutional knowledge of Palo Alto. Kou said she would frequently hear Munoz recollect on the city’s history, and her account would be corroborated by others.

“Her stories put a smile on your face,” Kou said.

Political backbone

At Sunday’s gathering, attendees reflected on Munoz’s political backbone. Her daughters believed she got that from her paternal grandfather, who was banished from Ireland for his political views.

Stephanie Munoz with her late husband Robert. Photo provided by her family.

But there may have been another reason that ignited her passion. In the late 1950s, she and her late husband Robert were buying a house in Los Altos Hills and they came across a covenant for the town that restricted blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other non-whites. Robert Munoz was Hispanic. The owner of the property looked at the covenant and said he didn’t care what it said. He sold them the home.

That episode may have led her down the path to becoming an activist, her daughters said. They recall that it was in the late 1960s when their mother first started speaking at council meetings.

Munoz was a long-standing member of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Peninsula branch, and served on its Low-Income Housing Committee.

Munoz was preceded in death by her husband Robert, who was a NASA engineer.

She is survived by her four children, Theresa, Bob (Lynne), Cristina (David E.) and David (Laura Chicchi), and grandchildren Brian, Mica, Savannah, Rob, Marcus, Grant, Sophia, Adam, Sara and Isaac, and great-grandchildren Maison and Leo.

9 Comments

  1. This is a very nice remembrance of Stephanie’s life, but one point that could be stressed harder is that she was a big supporter of the homeless. That’s a cause that isn’t popular in Palo Alto at all. But she was fearless in telling off the city council about homelessness matters.

  2. Stephanie spoke up at every council meeting for the many residents of the Hotel President apartments who were fighting to stay in their homes. I had no idea who she was but was touched by her consistent support. It meant a lot to all of us. RIP and thank you, Stephanie. Yours was a life well lived.

  3. Growing up with the Munoz family, Stephanie Munoz was always a cheerful presence on the St. Nicholas school campus. She seemed to volunteer for everything. I don’t ever remember her being cross about anything. And she was always encouraging. Her daughter Cristina was in my class and when we would knock heads as children sometimes do I remember patient conversations with Mrs. Munoz about how we should always treat each other every day like it’s ones birthday. That every person is special every day. I often smile when I think of those words from about 50 years ago. What a wonderful gift she was.

  4. Stephanie’s passing is a great loss to our local communities and to the peace and justice activists and causes she so stalwartly supported. She had a unique voice and contributed spiritedly with frequent letters-to-the-editor on wide-ranging issues. Hers was a tireless, loving, dedicated, gentle-yet-feisty spirit that we will hold in our hearts. She came faithfully to our WILPF meetings to lend her voice, always bringing comments and news clippings, and regularly attended and spoke at Palo Alto and East Palo Alto City Council meetings. She played her guitar and sang at community events and at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto in the garden. Several times I took her to the Palo Alto Repair Cafe, since she believe that cherished items should be fixed, not thrown away, and I took her or picked her up at the Flea Market at Paly High before or after WILPF meetings – she would often bring items she had found at the flea market to share with our members – a ceramic cup, pot for a plant, some napkins, sometimes a plant. When Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign came to speak at Stanford this past January, we were able to get her a spot with her wheelchair near the front and she heartily sang along with the choirs and enjoyed the event. Although she was already weak, she particularly wanted to attend one of our small weekly vigil/demonstrations on a corner in Palo Alto (she brought a folding chair and shopping bags): but she gamely held a sign and waved at passing cars from her chair, showing the core of her spirit to protest injustice and participate as she could. Her sweetness and her dedication will remain with us all.

    • Judy, thank you for your comments about Stephanie. I grew up in the sixties with the Munoz family (Stephanie and Bob were friends of my parents in college) and I wish I had known her in her later years. I remember her and your description of her meshes well with what I grew up seeing.

  5. Stephanie also had a song to sing. I was enchanted by her voice while she played the guitar. I meet her first about two years ago. Her sense of rhythm and melody showed just how musical she was.

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