October 17, 2023
Dear BUSD Community,
We are sad to announce the passing of longtime BUSD staff member, mentor, and leader Cliff Wong on October 10, 2023 at the age of 93. In a career of extraordinary service to the BUSD community spanning a remarkable seven decades, Mr. Wong is consistently remembered as a dedicated educator and a highly skilled leader who got along with everyone and mentored many BUSD staff over the decades.
Mr. Wong began his BUSD career in the early 1950s as a PE teacher and Dean at then Burbank Junior High School. He went on to hold many roles at BUSD, including Berkeley High School Principal, Director of Personnel , Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, and Lead District Negotiator, before his retirement in 1990. After retirement, he returned to interim senior roles, including Interim Superintendent. Mr. Wong also worked as advisor and chief negotiator for the Union of Berkeley Administrators (UBA) where he delivered “sage advice” and “maintained a sense of warmth, humor, and integrity” during negotiations, according to retired Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School Principal and former UBA President, Janet Levenson. “His encyclopedic knowledge of BUSD history was unmatched,” added Ms. Levenson.
Former School Board Director Elizabeth Shaughnessy remembered Mr. Wong as a leader with political finesse and the ability to remain open to learning about and considering the viewpoints of others. “He paid a lot of attention to the details of his job managing the curriculum in the district,” Ms. Shaughnessy shared.
“In public education, we sometimes have a surplus of philosophers and a shortage of people who actually get things done. Cliff was the latter, someone whose caring and commitment was expressed through actions and genuine service,” noted former BUSD Associate Superintendent Educational Services Pasquale Scuderi. Acknowledging that Mr. Wong was instrumental in the development of his own career, he continued: “My work ethic, as well as my negotiation and management skills all improved because of Mr. Wong. He was in his late 70s when we worked together and his energy reserves were deeper than most 30-year-olds I know now.”
“Cliff was someone very special. As well as being a strong and inspirational leader and innovative thinker, he was a man of integrity with a great sense of humor,” said former Associate Superintendent of Educational Services for BUSD Neil Smith. “He created meaningful connections with his students, his staff, and the community.”
Cheryl Chinn, former Principal of Malcolm X Elementary School, remembers Mr. Wong,who was her uncle, as a mentor and confidant throughout her life and career. “Cliff was full of wisdom, and could be counted upon to provide thoughtful and relevant advice, along with, no doubt, a witty rejoinder,” she shared with BUSD. Her sister Chris Lim, former Associate Superintendent of Educational Services at BUSD, remembers her uncle as a “living legend” in BUSD. “Starting as a teacher and rising through the ranks, he left his handprint on every aspect of the district,” she shared.
“Cliff’s intellect and passion for the district, in addition to his ability to connect with every person he met with, has left a lasting legacy in BUSD,” shared Mary Buttler, former BUSD Director of Human Resources. Known for his easy-going personality and a “devilish twinkle in his eye,” according to Ms. Buttler, Mr. Wong “modeled a highly effective collaborative process.” Former Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Deila Ruiz remembered Mr. Wong’s great sense of humor: “I can see him with that mischievous smile, cracking jokes.”
Mr. Wong is survived by Letty Wong, son Brian Wong and daughter-in-law Barbara Wong, daughter Karen Yuen and son-in-law Goeffrey Yuen; grandkids Lindsey Yuen, Courtney Yuen, Brannon Wong, Briley Wong; Siblings Helen Lum, Gene Wong ( and wife Winifred Wong), Gilmore Wong, Laura Jew, Bernice (Wanie) Biggs, Christina Yuen (and husband Al Yuen); and several nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, including his nieces and longtime BUSD administrators Cheryl Chinn and Chris Lim.
We are thankful for the many lives that were touched and inspired by Cliff Wong and the ways in which he exemplified our shared mission of “making positive contributions to the world.” His commitment to kindness and service will surely be his legacy, and his impact on Berkeley and Berkeley Unified will live on.
Berkeley Unified School District
Public Information Office