FOSTER CITY -- Pam Frisella came to this quiet bayside community seeking fellowship after a personal tragedy. Nearly four decades later, as she wraps up an eight-year tenure on the City Council, it's clear she found it.
Frisella, the two-time Foster City mayor known for her warm, irreverent personality, retired from local politics Monday night, her last day officially serving the city she regards as her "extended family."
Frisella was pregnant with her second son when her husband Danny, a veteran relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, died as a result of a dune buggy accident in Arizona on New Year's Day 1977. The widowed single mother moved to Foster City to be close to her late husband's hometown of San Mateo, where Danny had starred at Serra High School.
"They embraced me and brought me into their city," Frisella, 67, said in an interview Tuesday, "and I will be forever thankful."
Her involvement in local politics began with a campaign in the early 1980s to build Sea Cloud Park. She ran successfully for council in 2005, won re-election in 2009 and was termed out this year. She was replaced Monday by newly elected Councilman Gary Pollard, while second-term Councilman Charlie Bronitsky took over as mayor.
Frisella's proudest accomplishments include helping Foster City keep its finances in order during the recession and secure an agreement to develop a long-vacant 15-acre lot next to City Hall into Foster Square, a retirement community and retail complex that will begin construction as early as June. But she figures her best attribute was making people feel their voices were heard.
"I think I set the mood of friendliness and approachability to high-profile people at Gilead and Visa," she said, "but also the guy at the deli and the people I meet at Safeway."
At council meetings Frisella was known for keeping the mood light. She liked to crack wise -- on Monday she joked that she may move into an assisted-living unit at Foster Square: "Why do you think I voted for the thing?" -- and she lacked the restraint of a typical politician.
"She brought a little bit of comic relief to our meetings from time to time -- you never knew what she was going to say." said close friend and former Councilwoman Linda Koelling, who had to counsel Frisella not to roll her eyes when exasperated. "Her face expresses what she's feeling, and at times she has to be careful of that."
Frisella is also bighearted, Koelling attested. One of the people in attendance at Monday's crowded council meeting was John Kelly, the 85-year-old former director of the San Mateo nonprofit Samaritan House. The two became friends after Kelly officiated Danny's funeral in 1977. When Kelly suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve 2011, Frisella dedicated herself to getting him back on his feet.
"I didn't have to worry about being taken care of," Kelly said. "She's always been there for me."
Now Frisella plans to spend more time with her grandchildren, on the golf course and volunteering for Samaritan House and other local charities.
Despite having lost her husband, Frisella says she feels fortunate. She was able to focus on raising her kids full time thanks to her late husband's Major League Baseball pension. She had an unexpected, yet fulfilling, political career. She suffered a stroke of her own in 2008, but there was no lasting damage.
"I've been incredibly lucky," she said. "It's just been a great run. I never thought I'd be in this position."