RIP Bernard Mayes, Bernal Neighbor and Suicide-Prevention Pioneer


Via an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, we learn that we have lost one of Bernal’s finest. Neighbor Bernard Mayes of Winfield Street, the creator of America’s first suicide prevention hotline, has died. The Chronicle writes:

The first suicide hotline in the United States consisted of one man with one phone in one room in San Francisco. The man was Bernard Mayes, and he has died at 85.

Mr. Mayes, a longtime San Francisco radio correspondent for the BBC, was also the founding station manager of KQED FM. His death Thursday was confirmed by Matthew Chayt, executor of his estate. Mr. Mayes suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been hospitalized.

In a 2012 interview with The Chronicle at his home in Bernal Heights, Mr. Mayes recounted how he got the idea for the hotline.

“I did feel that what was really needed was a compassionate ear, someone to talk to,” he said in the smooth radio voice of his native London. “It occurred to me that we had to have some kind of service which would offer unconditional listening, and that I would be this anonymous ear.”

The year was 1962, and Mr. Mayes acted on his hunch by placing cardboard ads on Muni buses: “Thinking of ending it all? Call Bruce, PR1-0450, San Francisco Suicide Prevention.”

PHOTO: Bernard Mayes at his home in Bernal Heights, 2012. Photo by the San Francisco Chronicle

4 thoughts on “RIP Bernard Mayes, Bernal Neighbor and Suicide-Prevention Pioneer

  1. I was able to meet with him a few times when he visited KQED in the last few years. Great man. RIP.

  2. I had the pleasure of knowing him. He was actually an Anglican/Episcopal priest and among other things was also a gay civil rights political activist. He encouraged me to bring whatever “insight” I may have had to the suicide prevention training sessions, in order to give the volunteers some actual exposure to real GBLT people. Funny to talk about this now because today’s attitudes are a world away from the way things once were…

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