Posting campaign signs is a necessary evil in county politics. Contra Costa County assessor Gus Kramer recalls performing this tedious task with good friend Bill Pollacek, and one occasion that spoke to the character of the retired county treasurer-tax collector who died in Napa on Friday at age 69.

"We went to this field to maintain some signs," Kramer said Monday. "Next to Bill's sign was his opponent's sign, which had come loose on two corners and was blowing in the wind. A lesser man would have torn it down. Bill reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple nails and tacked it back in place. That describes him in a nutshell. He was one of the most honest people I've ever known."

Those who knew Pollacek during his three terms of public office remember him as industrious, principled and professional. They also describe a big man with a sense of humor and a laugh that could walk through walls.

"He left big shoes to fill," said Russell Watts, Pollacek's hand-picked successor. "He had a certain reputation that was nearly impossible to measure up to. He was very respectful, very diplomatic in the way he would treat people. He obviously took his work seriously. He was there by 6:15 every morning, and he'd stay until the lights were turned off at 5 o'clock."

Pollacek, the son of a pilot and a nurse, spent the first 30 years of his career in the private sector, working for Wells Fargo, then for Bank of America.


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"In the sports world, that's like playing for Cal, then playing for Stanford," Kramer said. "And he did a good job for both. He took the fiduciary responsibility of managing other people's money extremely serious."

Pollacek served Martinez on the City Council and as treasurer before running for treasurer-tax collector in 1998. He was one of the first and one of the strongest voices to speak out for pension reform.

"He knew if the retirement board wasn't careful, they might incur a loss or unfunded liability," Watts said. "Of course you saw what happened the last several years, where money has gotten tight and services cut back."

Even in retirement, Pollacek kept public officials on their toes.

"I saw him at a county retirement board meeting a few months ago," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. "He was in fine spirits. He said, 'I'm going to keep an eye on you guys.' He was a pit bull watchdog."

Watts admired the way Pollacek could strike up a conversation with anyone and speak with authority on a variety of subjects. He recalls fondly being able to overhear portions of Pollacek's phone conversations despite occupying a separate office.

"He had this infectious laugh that would resonate through the wall radiator and come into my office," Watts said. "I couldn't hear the conversation, but I could hear the laugh."

Over the years, Pollacek acquired a number of interests and hobbies that seemed to portend an active, fulfilling retirement. He enjoyed traveling with his wife Nancy, with whom he moved to Napa after leaving county government. He was an avid bridge player. He served on a handful of boards of directors, including Music in the Vineyards, which brings live classical music to wineries.

"He was trying to convince them to go for grants," said Kris Hunt, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. "He still enjoyed being involved. He was really enjoying his time."

His sudden death, after a short bout with spinal meningitis, left his friends and former colleagues in shock.

"It's not fair," Hunt said. "I lost a friend, and the taxpayers lost a wonderful friend who cared about them."

Pollacek is survived by his wife Nancy, brother Jim Pollacek and sister Jeanne Pollacek. Services will be held at Tulocay Cemetery in Napa on May 16, with a private burial at 11:30 a.m. and a memorial service at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Napa Valley Opera House and Music in the Vineyards in Napa.

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.