Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 9, 2012

Remembering Gary Fazzino

Community mourns the loss of one of its most respected, passionate and longest-engaged civic leaders

The death of longtime Palo Alto leader Gary Fazzino leaves a hole in the fabric of the Palo Alto community, the high-tech world and the region.

Fazzino succumbed last week to multiple myeloma, a blood-plasma cancer initially diagnosed in early 2010.

Hundreds of elected officials, community and business leaders, family and friends came together yesterday at a memorial service to celebrate his life and achievements and to share memories of a man devoted to his family and community and the people that make it so special.

More than anything, the tributes and stories reflect Fazzino's love of working with people to accomplish good, his sense of fairness, and a warmth and humor that were more obvious in his private than public life.

With 18 years of service on the City Council and active community service for more than 40 years — since his days at Palo Alto High School in the late '60s — Fazzino created a legacy matched by few, if any, individuals over the century-plus since Palo Alto's founding in 1894.

His love and knowledge of local history were widely recognized, matched only by his commitment to good government. Even those who disagreed with his political views and council decisions felt he had listened to them and felt mutual respect.

Although the consummate "insider" in Palo Alto politics, he was also a strong believer in the importance of average citizens' initiatives in addressing problems or issues, and in recognizing that Palo Alto's strength comes from its diversity of ideas and backgrounds. He loved finding, encouraging and recognizing the unsung heroes doing good work in the community.

When state Sen. Joe Simitian met Fazzino at Paly in 1967, their shared interest in politics and public service created a bond that made them best friends ever since, in spite of Fazzino being a Republican and Simitian a Democrat. (Fazzino quietly switched his registration to Democrat more than a decade ago as the Republican party moved increasingly to the right.)

Simitian described Fazzino as a "wonderfully complicated guy, with wide-ranging interests, from his religious studies at Stanford to his deep interest in public policy-making and politics. He had a wonderful mix of old-school values and 21st-century aspirations. He spent his career in the tech world, dealing with business around the world, but Palo Alto was his home, first and last."

Fazzino became a fixture in local politics while a student at Stanford when he took on the job of hosting the live coverage of City Council meetings for the student radio station, KZSU. He became more knowledgeable on city issues than some council members.

After a struggle with indecision, Fazzino ran for and was elected to the City Council in 1977, at age 24 — tying an earlier councilman as the youngest member. He served until an out-of-town job transfer to Seattle forced him to resign in 1983.

Six years later, back in Palo Alto, he was elected to a second council stint in 1989, which lasted until he was termed out in 2001 — also an extremely busy time in his government-affairs career at Hewlett Packard.

As a council member and more recently, Fazzino advocated shifting the council to a directly elected "strong mayor" system because of Palo Alto's complexity — it never caught on.

Over the years, his interest in Palo Alto history deepened, and he became known as Palo Alto's "unofficial historian," complementing official historian Steve Staiger of the Palo Alto Library. He was especially proud of this recognition.

He collaborated with former Weekly editor Jay Thorwaldson on the political history chapter included in Ward Winslow's Palo Alto Centennial Book, published in 1994 by the Palo Alto Historical Association.

Recently he had been working with Thorwaldson on a new history of City Council elections dating back to 1894. Work is continuing on the lengthy, detailed project, to be published in Fazzino's memory. Despite his public visibility, Fazzino had a private side that he guarded carefully, one where he kept his inner humor and a sensitivity to his public image. He was deeply offended in early 2010 when a local newspaper incorrectly reported on its front page that he was "near death" following his multiple myeloma diagnosis.

Surgery for a painful back condition, possibly cancer-related, and other cancer treatment helped him enter an extended period of relative good health until late summer.

As the many comments posted on Palo Alto Online show, Fazzino had an astounding range of relationships and involvements. It was through that web of relationships that he made such an impact on Palo Alto and the region.

He was one of those rare individuals who could operate in both his public and high-tech-professional roles and also be a trusted friend to scores of persons. He was deeper and more thoughtful about life than many realized. Most of all he had a great love for his community, his family and, good, well-meaning government.

Thank you Gary, for the many gifts you have given to our community.

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