Stephen Thiermann (1916-2015), a leading Bay Area peace and social change activist, has died at age 98. A lifelong Quaker, Thiermann directed the San Francisco office of the American Friends Service Committee for two decades between 1948 and 1968, a period in which the AFSC played a critical supporting role in the creation of numerous social agencies, including Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, Self-Help Enterprises in the San Joaquin Valley, North Richmond Neighborhood Center, Northern California Service League in San Francisco, and other innovative programs designed to help underrepresented workers and families. He developed and launched the first prison service agency in the history of San Francisco providing counseling and employment assistance to released prisoners.
Following his tenure in the Bay Area, Thiermann served as Quaker representative at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, where he organized conferences for diplomats admidst intensive Cold War rivalries and helped create The National Committee on US-China relations, a public interest agency that helped lay the groundwork for an official US rapproachment with China. At the UN, he served as Chair of the Non-Governmental Committee on Human Rights and privately hosted numerous off-the-record gatherings for diplomats from contentious nations to encourage forthright exchanges designed to avoid future conflict and violence. In addition to his work at the United Nations, he served as the Director of the AFSC’s international Affairs Division, which oversaw Quaker relief efforts around the globe.
He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1967 Koshland Award in recognition of “his outstanding professional contribution to health and welfare in California.” A graduate of Haverford College and The University of Wisconsin Law School, he was presented with “The Haverford Award” in 1975 for his contributions to international reconciliation and disarmament. Thiermann was the author of three books, Welcome to the World (1968), a history of the AFSC’s groundbreaking work in California on the frontiers of social change, and Across the Divide: Peacemaking in a Time of Cold War, chronicling Quaker international efforts to end Cold War rivalries. His third book, Always Loving, is a memoir describing his wife Mildred Hunter’s childhood, marriage and spiritual life.
Mildred predeceased Steve in 2001. He is survived by four children, Susan Giddings of Ben Lomond, Jennifer Sheridan of Chicago, Emily Doub of Santa Cruz and Carl Thiermann of Berkeley, seven grandsons, and one great-grandson. Contributions in his memory may be made to the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco or to The San Francisco Friends School.