Purple lady works to create more joy in a troubled world

The color purple: For some it means a fashion statement; for others, the title of a book. For volunteer Barbara Meislin, "the purple lady of Tiburon," it is simply a way of life.

"Colors, through the energy of their wavelengths, have a certain effect on the body and psyche," she said. "Purple gives joy. It's a way to connect with other people."

Meislin, whose philanthropic connections range from playgrounds in Israel to cancer research fund-raising as well as a host of Jewish agencies and concerns, dresses in shades of purple. She also surrounds herself with the color in a home furnished from carpet to wallpaper in lavender hues. She sleeps on purple sheets and bathes in a purple tub.

This, she maintains, is no affectation, but a philosophy.

"One of the greatest commandments for me is to find joy in what is essentially a very troubled world," she explained. "I feel that is a commandment because God created joy as well as sorrow. That is what the color purple is to me.

"A focus in my life is turning a negative into a positive," she continued. "That's at the root of what I do."

One of the best examples is Positively Purple for the Breast Cancer Fund, a fashion fund-raiser Meislin organized featuring models who are breast cancer survivors. The link with the purple tattoos given during breast cancer radiation treatment turns the color into a positive metaphor for healing.

"I wanted to show the other side of the coin," Meislin said.

"One in seven women in the Bay Area have breast cancer. If you're lucky enough not to have it, you ought to put your tush on the line to help those who do. I feel very passionately about that. We all need to help each other along."

Meislin will be recognized for her three-year involvement with the event on Wednesday, Nov. 5 and again on Friday, Nov. 8, on Bay TV's "Everybody's Angels," a weekly cable television show hosted by Pari Livermore that tells the stories of various Bay Area volunteers.

Conceived as an antidote to the tales of violence and depravity that tend to dominate the small screen, each episode of "Everybody's Angels" is geared toward making viewers feel a little bit better about the world they live in and, perhaps, to make a difference themselves.

Future segments will feature other Jewish volunteers including Tad Taube of the Koret Foundation; Jeff Arons, who works to turn things around in East Palo Alto; fund-raiser Lois Pavlow; and St. Anthony's Dining Room volunteer Herb Lieberman.

"Investing in people brings you heavenly dividends," Livermore, herself an active fund-raiser for nonprofits, has said.

Meislin couldn't agree more. She tries to turn trial into accomplishment. When she lost one of her three children to a rare viral infection, Meislin — an active proponent of Arab-Israeli understanding — met the challenge of grief by building a playground at the Oasis for Peace, a multinational residence and study center in Israel. There also is a gazebo on the Tiburon waterfront, "a little place of interfaith meditation and peace," dedicated to her daughter Lori's memory.

When Meislin's brother died of cancer, she set up the Library of Hope at the Hospice of Marin, a place where patients and their families can find books, music and videos that underscore the positive aspects of their lives. She also established a scholarship for musicians in memory of her brother through the American-Israeli Cultural Fund. The memory of a beloved aunt and mentor is kept alive through an endowment at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services

"When something happens with loss and sorrow, you try to turn it around and make something positive that gives meaning to that life and to your own," she said. "I'm a project manager; that's what I do. I feel that I get an assignment from someplace up there and go out and make it happen."

It's not all compensation and sadness, however. Meislin believes not only in the wearing purple, but in sharing it as well. Her "significant other," Stuart Kaplan, lives in a purple Victorian house in San Francisco. When Meislin's mother, "another purple lady," recently turned 89 she was feted at the Marin Convalescent and Rehabilitation Hospital with 89 purple balloons and guests all dressed in purple.

Meislin herself is a proud 61. "You can stay young," she said. "Renew your spirit and throw out all that old garbage. Life needs to be cheerful."