Almanac

News - April 3, 2013

Woodside environmentalist Ollie Mayer dies at 94

The Devil's Slide tunnel groundbreaking in 2005 was a triumph for Olive Mayer of Woodside. She wasn't there to cheer the tunnels completion at the party held March 25, 2013, however. Ms. Mayer died March 20 of heart failure. She was 94.

Back in 1971, Ms. Mayer and the Sierra Club were proposing a tunnel to bypass the notorious section of Highway 1 around Devil's Slide, between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, according to an article in the May 18, 2005 issue of the Almanac. Instead, Caltrans planned to build a four-lane freeway bypass at Devil's Slide. Ms. Mayer and the Sierra Club brought a lawsuit, the first of several, that stopped the highway bypass.

"Without Ollie, we wouldn't be getting a tunnel. The bypass would have happened," said April Vargas, a Coastside leader in the campaign to build a tunnel, at the time. "She continues to inspire people. That is her great gift."

Olive Hendricks grew up in New Jersey and New York before attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she was one of the first women to graduate with an engineering degree.

While on a hiking vacation in Colorado, she met her future husband, Henry Mayer. They married in December 1941, three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, the Mayers settled in Woodside and Dr. Mayer started his medical practice in Redwood City.

Ms. Mayer learned to love San Mateo County's rural Coastside, hiking its trails and absorbing its beauty. In the 1960s and 1970s, she led hikes of schoolchildren, scouts, and parents.

"I saw erosion, logging, the terrible condition of streams," she said. "Then I began to get interested in politics."

Ollie Mayer's legacies stretch far beyond the Devil's Slide tunnels. She founded the San Mateo County branch of the Sierra Club and fought for conservation on many fronts, including serving a term on the Woodside Town Council in the 1970s.

In a 2003 statement, the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club said Ms. Mayer's greatest missions included: preserving the San Mateo coastal resources; opposing illegal and highly destructive logging practices; and extending the trails in San Mateo County.

In 1983 the national Sierra Club recognized her with its special achievement award.

Ms. Mayer is survived by her children, Judy O'Brien and Robert Mayer, and four grandchildren. Her husband, Dr. Henry Mayer, died in 2009. A private memorial is planned for May.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Committee for Green Foothills, Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, or the Peninsula Open Space Trust.

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