In Memory

Pat Squires (Siegel)



Patricia Siegel, advocate for child care programs, dies

By Emily Green

December 29, 2015

Patricia Siegel, an influential and pioneering advocate for child care programs over the course of four decades, died Friday morning at her home in San Francisco. She was 70.The cause was aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease, said her daughter, Tara Siegel.

As a young mother of three small children in San Francisco, Mrs. Siegel employed an entrepreneurial spirit to improving childhood education and services. She established the city’s first child care resource and referral agency in 1972. She went on to found a similar agency at the state level, building it into one of the most comprehensive referral systems in the country. She also spearheaded the passage of state and federal laws expanding child care programs and education.

“Her name is really synonymous with the best initiatives giving all children the opportunity to succeed,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, D-San Francisco, adding that Mrs. Siegel was an early champion of the idea that early education creates long-term cognitive and emotional benefits. Her advocacy, Pelosi said, “was always evidence-based.”

“She changed child care in America,” said Margaret Brodkin, the former director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families. “Hundreds and hundreds of bills have gone through the state Legislature, and Patty was there for all of them.”

Mrs. Siegel was born Feb. 24, 1945, in Oakland. She attended UC Davis, graduating with a degree in French. But it was after she had her first child, at 23, that she embarked on what would become a lifelong career of improving child care services.

She established a neighborhood cooperative for parents to watch one another’s children and in 1972, after having twins, Mrs. Siegel started the Childcare Switchboard, which later became the Children’s Council of San Francisco. It was one of the country’s first child care resource and referral agencies.

In 1980, she founded and became executive director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. The agencies advocated for more licensed child care providers but also sought to provide greater transparency in the industry. For the first time, parents could easily do background checks on providers.

Mrs. Siegel also had an impact at the federal level. She traveled to Washington to lobby members of Congress. Among her biggest achievements was the passage of federal legislation in 1990 creating the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides subsidies to low-income families seeking child care.

“She could always tell a policymaker what kind of challenges families faced in finding and affording child care. She talked to everybody about it. She never missed a moment,” said Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.

Even after she retired in 2012 to help take care of her grandchildren, Mrs. Siegel kept up her work, her daughter said.

“I would get home from work and my daughter would be in a bouncy chair and she would be on the phone with someone in Sacramento and at the same time streaming a hearing,” Tara Siegel said. “She just couldn’t stop.”

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Siegel’s survivors include children Toby and Kelsey and four grandchildren. Her husband, Sandy Siegel, a longtime math teacher, died last year.

Earlier this month, Mayor Ed Lee signed a proclamation naming Dec. 21, 2015, Patty Siegel Day in San Francisco.

Memorial service details are pending.

Emily Green is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @emilytgreen

Emily Green

Emily Green

City Hall Reporter




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12/29/15 09:01 AM #10    

Carolyn Giffin (Conrad)

Patty was a wonderful outgoing, smilling friend.  I was shocked to hear she had passed away.  Hopefully it was peaceful and what a wonderful joyful time to go on Christmas Day.  My heartfelt condonlences to her family.  She will be missed.

Carolyn Giffin Conrad


12/29/15 09:30 AM #11    

Mary Winter (Rivenbark)

I'm so sorry to hear of Pat's passing.   She was always such a smiling, caring person.  My condolences to her family and friends.  

Mary Winter Rivenbark


12/29/15 09:35 AM #12    

Michael Ackley

Some of us knew Patty from Kindergarten, and she always remained the same, kind, sharing person, though, of course, her sophistication grew along with her. In the 1960s -- when the term "activist" came into vogue -- she developed a characteristic so many activists failed to achieve: Her activism was an effective, closely focused dedication to children and families. We would lose touch for years at a time, yet always maintained that Lakeview School connection. As all of us approach that doorway Patty crossed on Christmas day, we can hope she is waiting, just across the threshold, to renew our friendships. Hers is a great loss to her family. We join in the roll of condolence.


12/30/15 09:11 AM #13    

Frances Kroll (Reid)

I had the great fortune to see Patty this summer, when she, Barbara Mullaley ("Mully"), Susan Felter and I had lunch at the Lake Chalet on Lake Merritt to raise a toast to another recently departed friend and classmate, Nancy Lawler (Peppin).  It was a wonderful hot day on the lake and we laughed and reminised for hours as we had our mini reunion. Her death is such a loss to her family and her community and to the amazing advocacy work she did for the rights of parents and children to decent and affordable childcare and early childhood education.  I want to give special recognition to Mully who remained her dear and stalwart friend throughout her life to the very end, frequently traveling down from Washington to be with her, especially in her last weeks and days.  How fortunate we are to have such friends.  How heartwrenching it is when they are gone.  


12/30/15 11:22 PM #14    

James Porter (Big Daddy)

I am so sorrry to hear about Patty" passing. "Patty, when you get to heaven, tell your dad Tiny said hi"

Big Daddy

12/31/15 08:40 AM #15    

Debbie Mazor

So sorry to hear of Patty's death, but her obituary made me aware of how many unsung "heroes" there are and have been among our classmates. My memories of Patty are from way back. She was always a very thoughtful, determined person, mature at a young age. I especially enjoyed engaging in political discussions with her. She laughed a lot, too. But somehow I missed out on knowing about her activism throughout her life. I know her children and associates, including life-long friends, are grieving their loss, but it is clear she had a huge impact way beyond her personal sphere, and in that we can all rejoice. Thank you, Patty!


12/31/15 09:53 AM #16    

Sharon Lofholm (Johnson)

What an amazing life! What an extraordinary person and career....she took the road less traveled all the way from SanFrancisco to Washington, DC. She and Judith Smith must have crossed paths on their shared childcare advocacy in San Francisco. My sincere condolences to her children and family members. 

01/01/16 12:14 PM #17    

Helen Pulver (Rosenberg)

A heartfelt comment from Tom Skinner's wife -

From:  Christine Wardenburg-Skinner

Patty was a friend of my husband, Tom Skinner, from Oakland High. He showed me the obituary, and realizing what was her contribution to the ongoing reality of child care for families, I remember my own reality with three young children, working, divorced, and what it meant to have a healthy, supportive reality for my children. Nothin, nothing means more than to know your children are well, happy, and in good hands. I was lucky, my Lathchkee program had a wonderful care taker, energetic, loyal, intelligent, even given the low pay. What in this world is more important than the wee-being on one's child? Nothing. To have given her life and intelligence, her compassion toward this end speaks worlds of an individual who takes this reality on. Bravo Patty. Your were there all during your lifetime to support that essential reality. Thank you from one who never knew you, but realizes what it meant for such devotion.

01/04/16 11:30 AM #18    

Janet Stromberg (Rector)

An amazing lady is now with our LORD. She will be missed. I pray her work with children will go on thru family and friends. Blessings, Janet

01/05/16 04:13 PM #19    

Melanie Frazier (Margetts)

I am shocked.  Patty and I went through Lakeview school, Brownies & Girl Scouts.  She was always kind conscientious and giving.  I am not surpirsed that she accomplished so much in her life.  

Patty was one of our Lakeview group who made a positive difference in the world.

My sincere condolences to her family.   

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