Helen (nee Bruce) Frankel

1925 - 1997
                       Kern County and the State of California's First Woman Coroner

Helen Bruce Frankel was born in New York and raised in Lynbrook, California. She earned her degree in nursing at the University of California, Berkeley. As a registered nurse, Helen held positions in leadership, management and teaching. She also raised five children and participated in numerous civic activities.

It was in 1982, however, that she accepted her most significant challenge when she pledged to bring vision, management skills and compassion to the office of Kern County Coroner. Helen overcame many obstacles in her effort to become California's first woman coroner. She not only won a gender battle by unseating the incumbent, she also became our first grandmother coroner. When she recalled her campaign experience, Ms. Frankel felt sure her many years of public health nursing had given her sizable name recognition for a first time politician.

In the 12 years she dedicated to public office, Helen Frankel accomplished her vision by reorganizing the department for greater efficiency, saving tax payer dollars. She upgraded the professional quality of the office by contracting with board certified forensics pathologists. It was Helen's opinion that her most important achievements were increasing the coroner's staff to meet county wide demands, successfully advocating for coroner's investigators to be qualified under Peace Officers Standards and Training and starting the volunteer reserve program in Eastern Kern County. However, her contributions to Kern County were even more far reaching. Among the most significant are: Development of procedures to protect the chain of evidence in homicide investigations Implementation of grief counseling for bereaved families, especially for parents of child victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Automation of accounting and administrative services for the Public Administrator and the Public Conservator Development of the Kern County Child Death Review Team, only the seventh to be established in the state Development of the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Team in co-ordination with the Health Department Establishment of the Elderlife Program in concert with the Office on Aging Support for numerous state and local professional and community organizations including the American Cancer Society, California Nurses Association, State Coroners' Association, League of Women Voters and the Kern Campfire Council

Helen was well respected statewide as a tireless advocate. She will always be remembered for her compassionate treatment of the living as well as her commitment to preserve the dignity of the dead. She never backed away from a challenge. She learned the duties of her office by working in the field, responding at all hours to accident scenes. Helen frequently took calls at home, often from families concerned about a loved one, because in her words, "It's important for people to have someone they can relate to directly."

     Copyright 2014 First Women of Kern County
     (Photo courtesy of THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN)

This is a copy of an article that was originally posted at http://www.firstwomenofkern.org/stories/storyReader$20, but has since been deleted.  This copy was kindly made available by Kern County from their archives (kern.org).

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Helen Bruce was born in Brooklyn, NY, USA on 27 September 1925 to Robert (Bob) Bruce b1891 and Mary (Molly) Gallagher 1883-1956.  She had one older sister, Jean Bruce 1919-1995.  Helen lived most of her life in Bakersfield, California.  She was married to Jacob Porter Frankel 1923-2009, book author and Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. They had five children.

An interesting article about Helen's life was published in the Los Angeles Times in 1986.  The brief biography below is courtesy of Kern County.