An energetic, self-described 'busybody'
A wiry bundle of energy greets a ring of the doorbell at the Los Altos home of Marge and Mike Bruno.
Though long retired, Marge Bruno — in the throes of preparing for a departure to China the next day — is dressed for success as a banker or politician, two of the several careers she has had.
"I don't drink anything with caffeine ever, ever, ever," said Bruno. "I'm just too wired on my own."
Bruno's uncontainable energy has led her from a childhood in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood of Queens to a varied life as a student, stay-at-home mom, banker, elected official and — in her own words — "busybody."
Often it was watching others — then deciding she could do the same thing just as well herself — that served as her jumping off points.
Bruno got married after studying economics at Hunter College and in graduate school at Cornell University.
"In those days, you stayed home and had children, which was fine," she recalled.
"I never resented it — I loved it."
But when the family migrated from Ohio to Los Altos in 1973, Bruno found herself with two sons in high school, few acquaintances and energy to spare.
She went back to earn an MBA at San Jose State University and took a job in corporate lending at Bank of America, where she got a first-hand view of Silicon Valley history.
She recalls seeing Steve Jobs — "just a kid" — coming into the bank barefoot, back in Apple's pre-IPO days.
Bruno's own accounts — ROLM, System Industries — were then Valley greats that since have been sold and absorbed by other companies.
"Working with all these startups you start to think, 'I could do that — why don't I have a business?'"
So she left the bank with two others and formed a mortgage brokerage business, Adobe Financial Group, lending on commercial properties.
The Brunos had made a pact to retire at 55, which they did in the early 1990s — Marge from banking and Mike from his career as an organic chemist with Raychem.
By that time, Marge Bruno was on to other things, anyway.
A retirement community near their home, Pilgrim Haven, was trying to expand and Bruno had become concerned.
"There was neighborhood opposition and I — I'm almost embarrassed to say it — was a part of it," said Bruno, who later went on to sit on Pilgrim Haven's board for a decade.
"I started going to planning commission meetings and city council meetings and, again, I felt I could do that as well as they could."
Once elected to the Los Altos City Council, Bruno helped to form a stakeholder committee that hammered out an acceptable plan, letting Pilgrim Haven expand while addressing neighborhood concerns.
Bruno's eight years on the council, including two terms as mayor, led to regional posts in the area of "paratransit" (federally mandated transportation for people with disabilities) and air quality.
Looking back, she said, the most gratifying work she did had to do with air quality, community service and libraries.
"How do you regulate air quality without doing terrible harm to business?" she said of her work on the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board in the early 1990s.
"I felt as though we were doing really important work. It had a major impact, and many of these issues are ongoing."
Board membership on the Community Services Agency of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills also left a major impression.
"The need is so enormous, and it's an agency that I think does really good work," she said.
And finally, helping to create an endowment for the Los Altos Library — now more than $2 million, used mostly for acquisitions — ranks among her most gratifying experiences.
Growing up in a culture where girls weren't necessarily expected to be educated, Bruno recalls some aunts and uncles teasing her parents for not putting limits on her or getting her "under control."
"Even in high school, if I thought someone was being unjustly mistreated or disciplined I would intervene — even though it was really none of my business," she said.
She recalled a friend of her brother's, four years younger, who was being raised by a single father from Mexico.
"The father worked very hard in a restaurant. This was a poor area. The father worked nights.
"At one point this young man missed a final exam because he didn't wake up in time, and he was going to fail the course.
"I knew he'd been working really hard and I thought, 'This is really wrong. Yes, he did miss the final, but he should be given a chance to take it.'"
Bruno took it upon herself to speak to the teacher.
"I said, 'This kid doesn't really have a chance. His father's not home. There's nobody there to make sure he wakes up on time. Give him another chance.'
"And he did. And that story just reinforces my busybodiness," she said.