Gordon Holmes, Lafayette's second mayor, used to say that if you want to get something done, "go about it as if you were killing a snake."

And he did. As one of the city's first council members in 1968, Holmes helped guide the newly incorporated city toward stability. He was mayor in 1969.

Holmes died Monday of chronic cardiac disease. He was 83.

"He was a man with tremendous ambition and unequaled energy," said his son, James Gordon Holmes. "He could outwork guys 20 years his junior."

Holmes showed an interest in politics even as a boy. He was student body president of his high school in 1940.

"We three brothers would argue politics around the kitchen table with our father," said his brother Dick Holmes, a Lafayette councilman from 1982 to 1991.

In 1955, Gordon Holmes moved to Lafayette when the community was an unincorporated part of the county and its residents numbered about 5,000. It would not stay small for long, city records show. The population quadrupled to 20,000 in 1970.

County plans called for high-density development that would eventually boost the population to 60,000 -- roughly three times what it is today. BART was under development.

Residents concerned about the changes and growth pushed for incorporation. Voters agreed in 1968 and, that year, elected the first City Council to lead the new city in its infancy: Holmes, Don Black, Bob Fisher, John Marchant and Martin Cogburn.

The new council hired key staff members and created BART, fire and planning commissions, city records show.


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A general plan was crafted that reduced the projected population by half.

"People move here because of the open space environment, and I don't think it should be changed," Holmes said in a 1969 Times article. To preserve Lafayette's "calm, rural atmosphere while the rest of the county undergoes swirling changes around us would be a real accomplishment."

He backed plans to spend $250,000 on Mt. Diablo Boulevard improvements, saying, "We don't just have to work on Mt. Diablo Boulevard, we have to attack it. ... It's the most dramatic thing we can do to improve the city."

But city politics weren't his only passion. He was a surgeon and chief of staff at Alta Bates and Herrick hospitals, both in Alameda County, during a medical career that spanned about 42 years. He left California to observe other top surgeons at work and then brought back what he learned, his brother said.

After the Vietnam War, he traveled to refugee camps at the border of Thailand-Laos and Thailand-Cambodia to treat refugees, many of them suffering from traumatic injuries, malaria or tuberculosis.

"He was not paid for it," said James Holmes, who accompanied his father there. "It was not something he was asked to do. He volunteered."

He taught at the UC Berkeley/UC San Francisco Joint Medical School and was twice selected as best professor of the school by students, Dick Holmes said.

Despite a busy schedule, the father of five made time for family. He and his sons took annual hunting trips in Wyoming, and he took his daughter horseback riding near Lake Tahoe.

The Holmes clan reunites for family get-togethers every summer and Christmas. The last reunion was 10 days before Gordon Holmes' death.

"We have a man who focused his life to all honorable things," said county Supervisor Gayle Uilkema, a Lafayette councilwoman from 1978 to 1997. "Most of us would be very proud to have done what he has done."

If you go

Memorial services are planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2369 Overlook Drive, Walnut Creek. The public is welcome.