FSM Arrestees

Stephen Alec Sokolow
Born November 27, 1943, in Los Angeles. He died of a heart attack in John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek on October 25, 2011, a gentle passing for him and a great, unexpected loss for the many people bound to him in love and friendship.

Steve graduated from Culver City High School in 1961, where he was school president and salutatorian. His graduation speech lauding the freedom riders in the South drew political fire from the local John Birch Society. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Mathematics from UC Berkeley in 1964, and that same year, married Jane Quarnstrom. As a graduate at UCB, he joined in the Free Speech Movement and was arrested in the Dec 3, 1965 Sproul Hall Sit-In. After finishing all course requirements for a doctorate in Mathematical Logic, he spent a year traveling, first hitchhiking through  Europe and North Africa with Jane, and then throughout India alone. After having seen wider worlds, he accepted a Masters in Mathematics and left Academia for the social experiments of the late 60s.

In 1969, he and Jane joined a small commune in Berkeley and had two children. When the commune dispersed in 1972, they purchased a home in north Berkeley. Two years later, Steve joined began work in Silicon Valley as a scientific programmer, creating software for mass spectrometers (devices that measure the chemical composition of matter). Within a few years, he partnered with two other scientists to create a new design for this device, which was later used in the O.J. Simpson trial.

In 1980, he and Jane divorced, but both continued to participate fully in their children’s lives. In 1990, his marriage to Bryana Lancaster also gave him a stepson, and, in recent years, two beautiful grandchildren to whom he was devoted.

Steve’s politics were anti-establishment, yet his gifts for engaging and uplifting people won him life-long friends of every political stripe. Steve was a born teacher. He had vast knowledge, understanding, and enthusiasm for many subjects and delighted to see others experience one of his favorite insights. Rather than just tell you the insight, he instinctively knew which piece of the puzzle you needed to achieve that insight for yourself. Whether if was Calculus, Wotan, or Superman, Steve would open up whole worlds to anyone who wanted to go there.

Of his many interests, it was in the ultra rich density of Wagnerian opera that he found emotional and spiritual resonance. As a starving student, he attended operas in the nose-bleed (balcony rear) sections or in standing room. In later years, his season tickets were front row center. 1980, he became a charter member of the Wagner Society of Northern California which he liked to call  “Wagnerians Anonymous,” where Wagner fanatics could go indulge their passion for endless discussion and dissection without annoying their friends and family. He was board president multiple times, and whenever the SF Opera hosted the Ring Cycle, he gloried in hobnobbing with great Wagnerian singers and the conductor Donald Runnicles, as well as participating in erudite discussions and panels the WSNC presented.

In the early 1970s, Steve used his technical genius to penetrate the mysteries of Wagner’s genius by creating a Wagner concordance, a program that calculates the number of occurrences of each word in a given text. Given the state of technology at the time, this was a masterful feat. In the early 1980s he presented a copy of this work to Wagner’s grandson Wieland Wagner in the Wagnerian Mecca, Beyreuth, Germany. This concordance is now displayed in a museum there to this day.

The new production of The Ring presented by SF Opera this summer was a peak experience for him. He told his wife Bryana that he felt like Faust when he said, “When I say to the Moment, “Stay, thou art fair,” then Time be finished.” I think, for Steve, the Moment was fair.

In addition to Jane and Bryana, Steve survivors include his children Molly Hayden and Montano Sokolow, his stepson Jason Lancaster, his granddaughters Sophia and Amara, his mother Rita, younger brother Fred, aunt Bev Bogart, cousins Rick Bogart and Judy Bogart-Hyde, nephews and nieces Ramona, Dmitria, Pandro, Daniel, and Zac, and many fond friends and family members. A memorial is planned for Nov 27th, which was to have been his 68th birthday. The family invites anyone who wishes to honor Steve to listen to their favorite music on that day, surrender to it completely, and raise a glass in toast to Steve. For a multimedia glimpse of this special man, see please visit stevesokolow.com.

FSM Participants