A note from Jeanne Halpern, Louis Prisco’s long-time domestic partner:
Louis and I met at the Hike Leaders’ Bash, the annual hike and potluck for hike leaders on Mt. Tam, in 1993. One thing people don’t realize is how much the Sierra Club brings people with like interests together. When we led the Valentine Lovers’ Hike the first time — which we’d expected would attract people who wanted to fall in love! — we stopped at the log where Louis and I had met. There we reenacted our meeting and then asked the thirty-one hikers to tell a little about themselves, maybe what attracted them to our hike. And we were amazed that almost all of them were couples who’d previously met on Sierra Club hikes! (The odd number was because Guy Mayes’ wife Nancy was home sick.) And I later learned that several couples had met on the Sierra Club hike I used to lead to movie filming sites in S.F. There, they had two things in common, a love of hiking AND of movies. The romance of the Sierra Club is not to be underestimated, but usually is.
Louis Frederick Prisco, a gentle man with a strong social conscience, died at UCSF Medical Center on December 17, 2015, with Jeanne Halpern, his partner of twenty-two years, whispering to him and holding his hand.
Born in Providence, R.I., in 1939 to a large Italian family, Louis became the first of fourteen siblings and cousins to graduate from college, with a BA in Sociology from Providence College in 1961. He entered the army as second lieutenant, serving in France 1962-64, and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1963. He earned an MA in Comparative Literature from San Francisco State in 1972.
For the next twenty-six years, Louis worked for the San Francisco Department of Human Services, where he produced the first computerized “Child Welfare Handbook.” A staunch union supporter, he was active in the SEIU Local 535 as secretary, treasurer, and executive board member. He was also a long-time member of the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World.
An adventurous Sierra Club hike leader, Louis preferred 10-15-mile hikes on Mt. Tamalpais. Sitting on a log there one sunny day in 1993, he met fellow hike leader Jeanne Halpern, a meeting that changed their lives. To celebrate the pivotal role that the Sierra Club had played in their love lives, they created the Valentine Lovers’ Hike on Mt. Tam in 1997, the year they registered as domestic partners. It followed the route of the first hike on which they met, and at every picturesque turn, they read a love poem aloud for their followers. Jeanne’s favorite was “may I feel” by e. e. cummings, and Louis’ was “Symptoms of Love” by Robert Graves. The hike ended with a potluck dinner at the Alpine Club, at which Louis sang “Sweet Little Angel,” a song first recorded by B. B. King in 1956.
Louis’ most popular city hike commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1934 S.F. Waterfront Strike. Though it started as a ten-mile Sierra Club hike, he honed it to two miles and led it every July as part of LaborFest. The accompanying booklet he wrote, San Francisco Waterfront, impressed participants with its photos, thorough notes and bibliography; it was republished three times.
To complete his next writing project, a genealogy of the Prisco family from its roots near Mt. Vesuvius to its flowering in Providence, he and Jeanne moved to Naples, Italy, 1998-99. Through getting to know his “old world” relatives, he literally brought the two halves of his family together. Prisco’s from Italy and America have now made dozens of trips across the Atlantic to visit each other.
After Italy, Louis and Jeanne’s love affair with penguins led them to Antarctica in 2004, just before Louis was diagnosed with leukemia. Despite an amazing array of maladies since then, he basked in his favorite activities: walking, reading widely, writing about economic and environmental issues, enjoying movies and dinners with friends, talking hours on end with Jeanne, and listening to the Blues. Gatherings to celebrate his life were held in Providence and San Francisco in January 2016.
Donations in Louis’ honor may be sent to:
- Commonweal Cancer Health Program, PO Box 316, Bolinas, CA 94924
- Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University, 1630 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132
- San Bruno Mountain Watch, 44 Visitation Avenue, Suite 405, Brisbane, CA 94005
- Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Suite I, Berkeley, CA 94702