Mel Bergheim, a former Alexandria vice mayor who encouraged integration in the city, passed away Sunday, Oct. 20. He was 87.
Bergheim was first elected to council in 1970 and later moved into the vice mayor chair at City Hall.
Bergheim worked to integrate city functions like the George Washington Birthday Parade and to improve environmental and health conditions around Alexandria.
In 1976, Bergheim lost a three-way race to replace Charles Beatley as mayor. Frank Mann, running as an independent, won the election. Bergheim, the Democratic nominee, split votes with Melvin Miller, another independent candidate.
After the loss, Bergheim remained involved in city affairs and moved into a mentorship role in the Alexandria Democratic Committee.
“Mel served on City Council in my youth, but he was a mentor and an elder statesman of the party as I began my political career,” said Kerry Donley, a former Alexandria mayor who was first elected to city council in 1988. “I often looked at him for advice, particularly about issues in the West End. He was a true Democratic statesman and he and his wife Donna were stalwarts in this city.”
A former newspaper reporter, Bergheim first became active in the city in the early 1960s serving in citizen associations in Dowden Terrace and later in Seminary Hills. He was founding president of the city’s Federation of Civic Associations in 1964, an organization that remains active to this day.
“Mel was the perpetual optimist,” said Donna Fossum, a longtime member of the Alexandria Planning Commission who got to know Bergheim in the ADC and later as a neighbor in the Hallmark Condominium. “The world was always going in the right direction. … Nothing fazed him. He believed in humanity and he believed in people. And he supported them.”
Fossum said she saw Bergheim just last week at a their condo board meeting. Bergheim, a former Massachusetts resident, was lobbying to have the Red Sox playoff game on the TV during the meeting.
“He always had story to tell,” Fossum said. “I’ll miss him as a neighbor, running into him in the hallways.”
The endorsement of Bergheims remained hard earned among Democratic candidates. Donna Bergheim was a huge arts advocate in the city and helped found the MetroStage. She passed away in 2010. Both were named Living Legends of Alexandria that year.
Mel Bergheim was still offering his hard-earned endorsement in the 2012 city elections.
“I’ve never seen a more competitive city council race,” Bergheim told Patch at Fossum’s council campaign kickoff in March 2012. “With at least 13 candidates on the Democratic ticket alone, it’s going to be quite a race. It’s an interesting and turbulent time. Fortunately we have some excellent candidates.”
Bergheim is survived by his four children and their families.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25 at Temple Beth El (3830 Seminary Rd.). In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit American civil rights organization.