Friends, family and acquaintances of former Palo Alto mayor Gary Fazzino gathered on a rainy Thursday to pay their respects to a man renowned for his "competence, compassion and courage."
Fazzino, who served 19 years on the city council, died Oct. 30 of complications related to multiple myeloma, a difficult-to-treat cancer he was diagnosed with 2½ years ago. He was 60.
"We have today a heartfelt sense of great loss. Annette has lost a loving husband, Matt and Julia a devoted father," Father Matt Stanley told the hundreds gathered for a funeral Mass at St. Albert the Great Church, referring to the two-time mayor's wife of 11 years and 5-year-old twins.
"The community has lost a leader whose competence, compassion and courage could always be depended upon in every enterprise. A vast circle of friends have lost a true and unselfish man whose personality was radiant. ... The church has lost a brother who gave himself wholeheartedly to Christian service."
Longtime friends, including U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo and California state Sen. Joe Simitian, both D-Palo Alto, took turns telling stories about Fazzino, ranging from the poignant to the humorous.
Jay Gellert recalled going with his friend to watch an international soccer game at a pub in Pacoima, when Fazzino was in Los Angeles for a visit. The establishment was full of tough characters, Gellert said, but Fazzino was able to win them over with his unique blend of brains and heart.
Reading from a letter she wrote after Fazzino's death, Eshoo touched on her friend's "infectious" thirst for knowledge.
"Another thing, Gary, how are you able to know so much without being a know-it-all? By every measure, you could have been one of those obnoxious geeks who rattles off batting averages from 1951, or soccer scores from Liverpool, or city council resolutions from a generation ago, or be the kind of guy who drives everybody crazy with the Tower of Pisa by reciting its annual rate of angular decline," Eshoo said.
"The answer is in the wonder you brought to it and the love you had for this world and all it had to offer. It was infectious."
Fazzino's gift for recall included local politics. He was often asked to comment on city council races. At the time of his death, he was working on a book detailing every election since the city's founding, including his own in 1977 at the age of 24.
His love of politics extended to national contests. Eshoo spoke about how she and Fazzino watched the first of the three televised debates between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
"Where you sat on my sofa will always be a sacred spot in my home. Oh, Gary, you know I prayed so hard for you. I even asked God to take some of my time and give it to you," said Eshoo, choking up. "But what matters the most is how you lived and how you loved. You did it the Fazzino way and you did it beautifully. And I will love you across eternity."
In addition to being elected five times to the city council, Fazzino carved out a career in government affairs at Hewlett-Packard and most recently at Applied Materials in Santa Clara.
Fazzino was cut from different cloth than his peers, said Simitian, who met him on their first day of high school in 1967. The two became best friends and "pretty much did everything together."
"He was the only teenage guy who was reading the romantic poets at the time. In a day and age of acid rock and the psychedelic sound here on the Peninsula, Gary was listening to Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor," said Simitian, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
"He was, as I told him, in many respects the only friend I had who had a generation gap with his own generation."
While they had a lot in common as East Coast transplants and Red Sox fans, Fazzino and Simitian held different political views. Fazzino was a registered Republican for roughly three decades.
"During his long years as a Republican I worried sometimes Gary had an inner Rumsfeld waiting to be revealed, but then I remembered this was the same guy who had given me a copy of 'The Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh' as a Christmas present," Simitian said. "And I figured it would all work out."
Fazzino's wife, Annette Evans, also spoke during the funeral Mass. While she left others to tell stories about her late husband, she implored his friends and family to reinforce his legacy.
"So many of you have asked how you can help, and may I ask for your help right now? Matthew and Julia are just 5," she said, her voice cracking. "Please help me in the years ahead to keep the memories of their father alive. Share a story. Teach a skill. Help them understand his wonderful legacy."