I went to Tom Carter’s civic remembrance on the 21st of August. He was cool guy . Died too young at 66, but you got to give the guy great snaps for all he did and all the impact he had.

When I wrote my voiceofsandiego.org item about my short time and experience with Tom, I didn’t even know of his kid’s challenges, his wife’s teaching career and special ed work, the friends he made with those he touched.

There was a huge crowd there with a sense of urgency about them at the loss of one of these types of people.

This last Tuesday I went to the memorial service for Gordon Luce, former architect and CEO of Great American Federal, former Chair of the California Republican Party, California Cabinet Secretary, close personal friend of former President Ronald Regan and Mayor/Senator/Governor Pete Wilson, grandson of civil war hero Moses Luce, son of Senator/Judge Edgar A Luce, a big legal dog in San Diego in his day, and brother of Edgar A. Luce, Jr., principal of the Luce Forward law firm.

And, truly, one of the nicest, most generous guys, you ever met.

I’m not a big panderer to the important folks of this berg. But I swear, both he, and his brother (who also died just recently), were very cool guys. And their families, backward and forward (no pun intended) were great for San Diego. They did all sorts of civic things. They did it all the time.

Thirty years ago it seems there were a whole bunch of families that just expected more of themselves as participants in the city. I remember Adelizzi, and Mulvaney, Fletcher and Sefton and Jim Schmidt in banking, the Goldens and Hazzards and Daleys in construction, Higgs and Hamilton and Ames and Procopio in Law, and a bunch of others that just seemed to always be involved in the decisions and plans and investments of the city because it was a part of living here. They supported all the charities, encouraged all the dreamers and brought the hammer down on mischief makers.

Their prominent businesses give a start to many young people who showed up and wanted a chance, some authority and the responsibility that went with it. For those not naturally inclined to civic participation, they found a way to include them in a lesser role. They sucked in a lot of energy from all over the place. You could feel it.

But, it wasn’t just that they were successful; it’s that they were successful and engaged in city’s politics, direction and identity.

The whole of it had a presence that provided some weight to the place.

And, they were able to grow a local government that had responsibility at the top. Not because of the framework of government, but rather because of the people that wanted to be a part of that type of city.

They produced a place that did not need a federally imposed “monitor.” We sort of monitored ourselves. Decisions that stunk, well … stunk. We all knew it and I don’t recall a huge effort to pretend that we did not.

This kind of dawned on me during Gordon Luce’s memorial, and I thought to myself, “what the hell happened here?”

Maybe it’s district-only elections, or term limits that lead those in government to micro-think everything. Maybe it’s the spiritual corruption of a generally more materialistic society. Maybe the civic and business organizations and city publications we used to rely on to watch out for us and speak out for us lost their sense of outrage and joined the public circus because it was just too tough to beat ’em.

Maybe there was just no way to stop our reaching this truly despicable place in our city’s life.

But, I remember a time when a lot more was expected and a lot less stink was tolerated. When problems were tackled not avoided. Big things could be done because we believed in ourselves and just knew that the people in government, regardless of their always-to-be-expected shortcomings, could and would screw up the courage to do the stuff that was hard, and mattered, and made a difference.

Some great families lived here back then.


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