Home » History

California Beat Hero: Bernice Brown

By California Beat August 20, 2009 2 Comments Print Share


Bernice Layne Brown

November 19, 1908 – May 9, 2002

First Lady of California

There is no denying that since the 1950s, the Brown family has contributed heavily to California politics. With two stints as Governor, possibly a third next year in 2010, and various state and local offices at one time or another, this single family have created much history in this great state. But behind every great family, there is a great matriarch and for the Brown family, that matriarch was Bernice Brown.

Born Bernice Layne in San Francisco, she was the daughter of noted San Francisco Police Captain Arthur Layne and Alice Cuneo.  Graduating from high school at the age of 14 and from the University of California Berkeley in 1928, she worked as a school teacher until 1930 when she married a young San Francisco lawyer named Edmund “Pat” Brown.

In 1944, she became the wife of an elected official when Pat Brown was elected District Attorney of San Francisco. But it was in 1958 that she came to greatest fame when her husband was elected the 32nd Governor of the state of California. She would serve as First Lady of California until 1966.

In 1974 her son, Edmund “Jerry” Brown was elected to serve as the 34th Governor of California serving until 1982. He also would hold a variety of other posts, including most recently Mayor of Oakland and California State Attorney General. He also mounted several national campaigns for United States Senate and President of the United States. In 1991, her daughter Kathleen was elected California State Treasurer, serving until 1995, and would also make an unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 1994.

In 2010, her legacy may continue as Jerry Brown is expected to mount another campaign for Governor.

Bernice Brown passed away in May of 2002 and was laid to rest in the Brown Family plot at Colma’s Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. Given her former position as First Lady of the state and the continuing contributions of the children she raised, we at the California Beat are proud to honor Bernice Brown as a California Beat Hero.


  • Sandra said:

    Does anyone remember that while 1st ld of CA Bernice ‘took off’ and toured the CA Missions up and down the state while people were frantically searching for the ‘missing’ Gov lady?

  • californiabeat said:

    Actually, if I may correct you Sandra, I believe you are thinking of Angelina Alioto. She went “missing” to tour California missions during her then-husband, San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto’s, 1974 gubernatorial campaign. Jerry Brown later went on to win that election.

    -Roy Morlidge