Peggy Kingman was well known in San Benito County and contributed to many public service organizations and nonprofits in the community. We heard recently of her passing and got special permission from the Union Democrat to run this memorial piece written by Giuseppe Ricapito.
Peggy Kingman, a Tuolumne County social activist who received the 2020 Laurie Aretsky Bailie Social Justice Award from the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, died on Jan. 18 from natural causes at her home in Sonora.
“She was very passionate about social justice and civil rights. That’s always been very important to her,” said her daughter, Shelley Abruzzini, 58, of Tigard, Oregon. “I think it was innate to her personality.”
From the time when she was a child, Abruzzin remembered her mother carrying a stack of gift cards in the center console of her car or in her purse. They would be driving around Hollister, in Oakdale or even in Sonora when her mother was in her 80s, and she would hand them out to the homeless who might be on the side of the road.
“That was really important to her, even then,” Abruzzin said. “That was part of her carrying package, whether it was her car or my car. She wanted to be prepared for that.”
Kingman was the founder of multiple activist organizations in California: Hollister in Black (an Iraq invasion protest group); The Coalition for Compassion, which sent money to Iraqi families impacted by the war; and the Tuolumne County Human Relations Alliance, a short-lived group intended to counter racism and discrimination in the county. She advocated for peace poles in Courthouse Square (which did not come to fruition), but she was successful in having one installed at St. Patrick’s Church in Sonora.
She was also a member of the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee for five years and served breakfast weekly at St. Patrick’s Church for 10 years.
MLK Committee member Vonna Breeze-Martin, 77, of Sonora, remembered Kingman for her abiding optimism, embodied in an oft-repeated quote from the British spiritual mystic from the 1300s, Julian of Norwich: “all shall be well. all manner of things shall be well.”
“She was so wonderful and so big hearted in so many ways,” Breeze-Martin said. “She was very spiritual. She often said to me when we would talk about difficult times, she was very optimistic and open and wanting to be of service, wanting to do the right thing.”
Kingman was the first recipient of the MLK Committe’s award after it was renamed for a member who passed.
Breeze-Martin said she would remember Kingman as a mentor and one of her dearest friends.
“She felt this pull or this draw to help communities in need,” Breeze-Martin said. “I think she just spent her life that way. She was a very deep thinking person and very contemplative about things. We had wonderful talks out on her veranda.”
Breeze-Martin said the MLK Committee’s annual event honoring the late civil rights icon was not held this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
When Kingman received her award, she was recognized for her “point of awakening” at eight years old, when the United States had just entered into World War II. Kingman remembered the black-and-white newsreels of concentration camp victims and starving children, feeling complicit or guilty to their suffering. She also remembered Japanese internment, when the Japanese sons and daughters of local strawberry farmers disappeared from school and never returned.
In 1987, when Kingman was 54, she went to Nicargua as a three-week witness for peace during the U.S.-supported war against the Contras. A few years later, she went to a Guatemalan village with Habitat for Humanity and later raised money to pay school fees for village children. The program she founded still exists today.
“She moved to this county and she immediately got involved,” said her friend Pat Cervelli, 77 of Tuolumne. “She was an activist most of her life and she was a very spiritual person and I think she directly connected her spirituality to working for social justice in the world.”
Cervelli said they first met in 2006 through an organization called Tuolumne County Citizens for Peace. She said she would remember Kingman as funny, well-read and smart.
“She was always her own person,” Cervelli said. “And it was fitting, in a way, she died on the MLK holiday.”
Kingman was born in New Jersey on Nov. 27, 1933, and traveled throughout the U.S. at a young age with her father, a photographer, before he set up his shop in Pasadena, Abruzzini said.
She met her husband, Stuart Kingman, in seventh grade. Out of high school, she attended Scripps College in Claremont and followed it with Stanford with Stuart Kingman. They married upon their graduation and lived in Palo Alto and the Portola Valley.
She had seven children, in descending age order: Peg Kingman (who was born on her mother’s birthday), Kimberly Simoni, Sally Kingman, Shelley Abruzzini, Tony Kingman and Joe Kingman.
They both worked at Hewlett Packard, and later she raised the children, worked as a veterinary assistant and cared for horses on their ranch south of Hollister near Pinnacles National Monument.
It was their home there that she made the bulk of her memories as a mother and fomented her activism, working as an ecumenical minister through hospice, taking in infirm horses and developing a campground for the federal land adjacent to their home.
It was around the 2000s that Abruzzini remembered her mother becoming involved with various social justice committees in the Hollister area.
In 2006, Peggy Kingman and her husband moved after selling their ranch to the National Park system to a 50-acre plot in Sonora near New Melones Reservoir.
“They liked the country and terrain, it was very similar to the house they owned in Hollister,” Abruzzini said. “Since they’ve come here they became involved. That was always something they both enjoyed, and they tinkered around here for the last 14 years. She was very passionate about it, and she found a group of people she felt really connected to.”
Abruzzini said she was a constant volunteer at the David Lambert Community Drop-In Center, a building that she and her husband owned.
“My mom was passionate for the homeless. That’s another thing that was super important to her,” Abruzzini said.
Peggy Kingman is survived by her husband, Stuart Kingman, 87, who plans to continue to live in Tuolumne County, and their children, 14 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one more great-grandchild on the way.
Terzich and Wilson is handling the funeral arrangements. They plan to hold a private service for their close family.