Professor Martin Wachs, who was a long-time member of the UCLA faculty in Urban Planning (1971 through 1996), shared this memorial tribute to Mimi Perloff, who was long considered the "godmother" of Urban Planning at UCLA.
I joined the UCLA Urban Planning faculty in 1971, when the school was still only a couple of years old. I came in large part because I was well aware of the creative work that had been done by the new dean, Harvey S. Perloff, in his previous positions. He was a brilliant scholar, a dynamic leader, and a person of utmost integrity. His dream of an excellent new Urban Planning Program engaged with Architecture and embedded in real world policy making was very exciting to me.
As soon as my wife, infant daughter, and I arrived at UCLA, we came to know that Harvey had a creative, inspirational partner and that the personality of the new school was as reflective of Mimi as it was of him. Mimi worked alongside him without salary or public recognition to make the school into a community. She hosted gatherings at their home at which faculty from both programs worked together shaping new initiatives and she invited community leaders to meet with faculty and students for stimulating discussions. She, like Harvey, could entertain with equal enthusiasn the world’s greatest scholars – I remember meeting Rexford Tugwell and Margaret Meade at their home – and first year graduate students. She understood that the most important events in the evolution of the school needed to be sociable, so without funds to support professional catering, she provided the food and organized volunteers to serve and entertain at graduations and to welcome new faculty and students each fall. She worked tirelessly to raise funds for the fledgling school, especially donations of scholarships and fellowships so that poor but deserving students could complete their graduate training.
Earlier in life, Mimi had been a pianist and a busineness woman. She consciously chose to support Harvey when he became Dean, but Mimi was not only a hostess playing a supporting role. She was also a leader in the arts and in politics. She co-founded Design for Sharing, which brings the performing arts programs of the campus to school children throughout Los Angeles; and later she supported fundraising efforts for a number of campus programs, from Medicine to Studies of Aging. She was active in Local and National political campaigns, supporting liberal causes and the candidates who best exemplified her commitments. She was always ready to argue for the causes she believed in and to extend herself for the benefit of others.
Mimi’s energy was unbounded, and she continued to support these many causes for a quarter century after Harvey’s untimely passing. She was the glue that kept together the school’s early faculty, staff, and alumni long after some of us had moved on to other places and activities. She had many commitments – to her beloved children and grandchildren, to the arts, and to liberal political causes. But somehow she also found time to continue to nurture the people and the community she had helped to build years earlier.
The best tribute we can offer to honor Mimi’s memory will be to keep alive the sense of community and commitment to social change that make Urban Planning at UCLA so special. Current students and new faculty may not know the roots of the excellent programs from which they benefit, but those of us who were present at the creation understand the extent to which Harvey and Mimi shaped what we and the Department have become.