Activist Ann Weisberger dies subject of Diego Rivera painting

Ann Chellin Weisberger was 19 when she packed up her labor politics and boarded a bus bound for Mexico City in 1932. She returned home to New York City a few weeks later with a promise from artist Diego Rivera to paint her portrait.

The picture hangs in Ruth Weisberger's San Francisco apartment — a constant reminder of her mother.

Ann Weisberger died April 6. She was 82.

A mother of two, teacher at the Ethical Culture School in Brooklyn and a graduate of Hunter College, Weisberger is best remembered for her labor politics — "quite possibly what Rivera liked about her" when they met by chance, Ruth Weisberger said.

"He liked her eyes. He liked her face. I'm certain he liked her political philosophy. He wanted her to meet Leo Trotsky, but she was too shy."

It was Ann's husband, Morris Weisberger, who was "the bigger-than-life personality — the famous labor leader," Ruth Weisberger said. "No one would call her shy, but she was a private person."

The two met in New York amid the labor upheavals of the 1930s. Morris Weisberger was head of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific.

They married and moved to San Mateo in 1956, later settling in San Francisco.

According to her daughter, Weisberger missed the Yiddish culture of New York City. She tried to form groups for Jewish political lectures in San Mateo, but only a handful of people would attend.

Nonetheless she was loyal to her principles. "She had a strong identity with the Jewish people. She grew up during the Depression and fought for workers' rights," Ruth Weisberger said.

Weisberger was active in Workman's Circle/Arbeter Ring — an organization known for its Yiddish bent on Jewish education, culture, and social and economic rights.

She served as director and fund-raiser for Histadrut, the Israeli labor federation, and treasurer of Na'Amat Rachel, formerly Pioneer Women. Weisberger traveled to Israel twice on behalf of those organizations.

"She wanted results. She didn't need the limelight," Ruth Weisberger said of her mother's activism. "If she hosted a [fund-raising] dinner, she asked `How did we do?' rather than `How do we get in the paper?'"

In keeping with her labor politics, Weisberger had simple tastes, her daughter said. When she wasn't waging the good fight, she enjoyed watching the birds in the backyard of her home near San Francisco's Stern Grove. She also liked reading newspaper obituaries.

"She loved reading about people's lives, about what they accomplished. She was more for ideas and people than for things," Ruth Weisberger said. "She was a smart thinker and an outspoken woman. But she was a good talker and a good listener too. I was surprised at how many people said she was like a second mother to them.

"But I'm sure there's a lot more mystery to my mother's life than I'll ever know. She didn't always talk of these things."

Ann Weisberger is survived by daughter Ruth of San Francisco, son Eugene of San Bruno, sister Ruth Newfield of New York, and brother Seymour Chellin of New Jersey.

She was buried on April 9 at Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma under the direction of Sinai Memorial Chapel. The family requests that contributions be made to the charity of one's choice.