ALBANY -- Mayor Peggy Thomsen, who was serving her fourth term in the city's top office, died early Sunday. She was 74.

No cause of death was released. Thomsen had been suffering from cancer, but her son, James Thomsen, said no autopsy was performed.

Peggy Thomsen spent 14 years on the City Council (1996-2004 and 2008-14) and previously served 16 years on the school board.

"She really wanted to finish out her term as mayor and serve the people of Albany," James Thomsen said. "That was extremely important to her, but that's not how it worked out."

Peggy Thomsen was extremely private about her personal life, limiting the number of people who knew about her illness to close friends, family and her fellow council members.

Peggy Thomsen photographed in Albany City Hall Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. (Joanna Jhanda/Staff)
Peggy Thomsen photographed in Albany City Hall Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. (Joanna Jhanda/Staff) (Joanna Jhanda)

Thomsen was born Feb. 28, 1940, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a salesman, and the family moved around when she was a child. They lived in Denver as well as Beaverton, Oregon, before settling in Fresno, where she graduated from Fresno High School.

She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Fresno State. While in college, she met her husband, John, who was also studying education.

The couple moved to Albany, where John Thomsen began a 39-year career as a teacher at Albany High School. Peggy Thomsen began her own teaching career, working in Albany and Richmond area schools. She also taught sailors through a program the U.S. Navy had with Chapman College.


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"(She) also did a ship-based program so there were a couple of summers where my mother went out to sea with the Navy," James Thomsen said.

She earned a Ph.D in educational administration from UC Berkeley and was still teaching at Heald College at the time of her death.

Her civic service included serving on the Waterfront Committee, the Charter Review Committee and the Social and Economic Justice Committee.

"She was an amazing lady," James Thomsen said. "She was deeply committed to education."

He said, "Her underlying passion was to help other people. That manifested itself in many different ways," including volunteering with the PTA, the March of Dimes, as a Girl Scout leader "and countless other things."

Councilwoman Marge Atkinson said Thomsen "had a natural leadership ability. Maybe that comes with all of those times she was president of the PTA, (or) running the class."

At Monday's council meeting, Atkinson told the audience, "She was such a great person to work with. We're still in a state of shock that she's not here."

Thomsen's main commitments were to her family and to Albany. James Thomsen said her only traveling interest was going to Hawaii. Otherwise, her favorite pastime was tending the garden at her parents' home in San Jose.

"She loved to do that," he said. "It was also sort of her passion. She planted more plants than she could harvest so she could give stuff away to friends or to family. We had fresh vegetables all summer long. And she would deliver to the homeless shelter."

Albany resident Caryl O'Keeffe said, "At some point we would find at our doorstep a bag full of produce." City Treasurer Kim Denton added, "I always got lemons."

James Thomsen said the family had recently helped his mother plant this year's crop.

"Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers. A nice summer bounty," he said.

Thomsen is survived by her husband, John, and sons, James and Robert, as well as three granddaughters. Her eldest daughter, Dianna, died in 2002 of a brain tumor.

A memorial service will be held June 14 at the First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley (2407 Dana Street at Haste). The memorial is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.