Sonoma man identified as Highway 12 victim
James Edwin Pendergast, a longtime Sonoma resident whose love of the English language fueled a career as a freelance writer, editor and poet, was identified Thursday as the pedestrian killed Monday while trying to cross Highway 12.
Pendergast, 85, was a familiar name in Sonoma, where his letters to the editor frequently graced the opinion pages of the Sonoma Index-Tribune. He lived on Fano Lane for more than 40 years and was a popular figure in the neighborhood, said Conley Smith, who lives next door.
“James originally owned most of the property on the lane back when it was just a gravel road,” said Smith. “He led the effort to name the street Fano Lane.”
Pendergast was hit at about 8 a.m. Monday just south of the Verano Avenue intersection and outside of a crosswalk. The death was the second on that stretch of Highway 12 in just four months and the third time a pedestrian has been struck by a vehicle there. Sonoma County Public Works Department told the Index-Tribune on Thursday that all of the crosswalks at that intersection would be repainted on Friday, March 26.
Pendergast was born and raised in Hayward, where he graduated from Hayward Union High School. He later earned a degree in English from UC Berkeley and had lived in Sonoma since the mid-1970s.
“My heart is broken, as I truly loved James,” said friend Sheana Davis. “He would send me poems several times a week, proofread all of my recipes and newsletters.”
Davis saw Pendergast last Sunday, when she brought him soup and groceries. “We joked that he was becoming a hippie since he had not cut his hair in a year, and yet I told him he looked handsome,” she said.
Pendergast lived alone, having lost his wife Maria Romo Pendergast in 2010. They had no children together. Pendergast had a previous marriage, which ended in divorce.
“My mom and James had a great relationship,” said stepson Kurt Ackridge. “He really missed her. They were true soul mates. They were together for almost 25 years.”
“We never chatted with him once without mentioning how much he misses Maria,” said Smith.
“He would read me his love letters to her and he even helped me write my wedding vows,” said Davis.
Pendergast’s other life passion was writing.
“Jim was a true poet and he also loved writing screenplays and he spent many years to trying to get a film made,” said Ackridge. “He got great feedback and came close but never got anything produced.” He was also a cook, an avid gardener and raised his own vegetables, said Ackridge.
Sonoma Index-Tribune editor Jason Walsh said he had long admired Pendergast’s mastery of the English language.
“When I first started at the paper James would email weekly with supportive comments and grammar tips,” said Walsh. “Our correspondence eventually turned from the rules of proper punctuation to more meaningful exchanges about writing, politics and life in Sonoma. That said, I’ll never misapply ‘compose’ and ‘comprise’ again.”
Up until his death, Pendergast did weight training and jogged the same route every morning for decades, down the bike path and across the road to Maxwell Park.
“His eyesight was poor so we worried about him jogging,” said Smith.
Pendergast is survived by a brother, archaeologist David Pendergast, nephews, stepchildren and grandchildren.