Known for his intelligence, humor and wide-ranging interests, Fazzino, 60, had an unflagging love of Palo Alto and was recognized as the foremost expert on the city's political history. He had been involved directly or indirectly in local politics since the early 1970s, when he hosted Stanford University's KZSU radio broadcasts of council meetings. At the time of his death, he was working on a history of Palo Alto elections dating back to the city's incorporation in 1894.
He became one of the youngest elected leaders in Palo Alto history when he joined the council at 24 in 1977. He served on the council from 1977 to 1983 and from 1989 to 2001, and as mayor in 1992 and 1999. Since 2009, he was vice president for government affairs at Applied Materials.
Before that, Fazzino had spent nearly a decade as a vice president for Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co., working mostly in government and public affairs. Among the people Fazzino hired at HP was Sid Espinosa, who himself went on to join the council in 2007 and who served as mayor in 2011.
Espinosa, who sat next to Fazzino at HP, said it was "Gary's encouragement as a boss and as a community leader to get involved that led to me being a council member and eventually mayor."
He recalled carpooling with Fazzino to work. While Espinosa would drive, Fazzino constantly would be calling City Hall to talk to officials about building projects and to notify them of cars that had been parked on the street for too long. When Espinosa would remind Fazzino that the latter was no longer on the council, Fazzino would respond, "Once a mayor, always a mayor."
Espinosa, who often traveled with Fazzino and met up with him socially, said he has never known anyone with more love for his city.
"He was Palo Alto. He loved Palo Alto. When you love something, you think about it all the time, and you work on it all the time," Espinosa said.
Jay Gellert, CEO of Health Net and a close friend of Fazzino since the early 1970s, said Fazzino changed little in the decades since they first met. Even back when Fazzino was a young KZSU radio broadcaster, he would delve deeply into subjects he found interesting — from sports to theology — and became an expert on these subjects.
"He was a theology major at Stanford and knew more about the history of the Catholic Church than probably the pope did," Gellert said. "He knew more about the history of Stanford sports than anyone in the sports department."
Though Fazzino is well-known locally for his encyclopedic knowledge of Palo Alto (his political history includes, among many other things, an account of where on the dais every council member had sat), his passions extended far beyond city borders. He could, for example, name the top song in America for any month since the hits started to get tracked (Espinosa confirmed this skill). He could also discuss with great fluency an election in Italy or a Senate race in a distant state.
Gellert called Fazzino an "original," a "Renaissance man" and a throwback to an earlier, pre-Facebook era, when friendships were deep and enduring.
"He had old-fashioned, long-term personal relationships with people," Gellert said. "Everyone he knew, he knew forever. He was a great example of everything people valued about an earlier time."
Though his disease caused him pain, it didn't slow down his mind, said Gellert, who had spent last weekend with Fazzino.
"Though he was obviously suffering from a very bad disease, his mind was clear and straight, and he could still talk to you about who will be the quarterback for Stanford next year," Gellert said. "While his body was failing him, his mind was as sharp as it's always been."
Fazzino moved to Palo Alto with his family in 1967, following a year in Santa Clara after a cross-country move from Connecticut in the family station wagon. He attended Palo Alto High School, then a three-year school, and was elected senior-class president.
Fazzino's educational background spanned multiple subjects. He received a bachelor's degree in religious studies from Stanford University in 1974, followed by a master's degree in public policy from Occidental College and an MBA from the University of Washington School of Business. He also interned with the San Francisco-based Coro Foundation, studying public policy.
He was first elected to the council in 1977 but resigned after six years due to a job transfer to Seattle. He returned to the council following the 1989 election and served as mayor in 1992 and 1999. Fazzino was forced by term limits to step down from the council at the end of 2001.
During his tenure, he established meetings with the mayors of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto and the president of Stanford to address regional issues. He formed the Red Team in 1992 to aid East Palo Alto, which was then struggling to cope with a wave of murders. He promoted the ban on smoking in public places, the preservation of Arastradero property as open space, the launch of the Palo Alto Shuttle and the establishment of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.
In recent years, Fazzino retained his deep engagement in the city's political life, often weighing in on local measures and providing analysis on election results. Over the past two years he promoted a shift from a one-year mayoral term to two years, opposed the measure that moved local elections to even years (the measure passed in 2010) and, most recently, backed the campaign opposing Measure C, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot and would allow up to three marijuana dispensaries to open in Palo Alto.
Fazzino was preparing to complete his political history of Palo Alto, a comprehensive account of every local election in the city's history and the issues surrounding each election. His unmatched familiarity with local history earned him the moniker of "unofficial Palo Alto historian."
Fazzino's death has prompted an outpouring of condolences from the Palo Alto community, with city leaders and residents sharing their memories of Fazzino. Councilman Pat Burt called Fazzino a "true icon in our community."
"His deep love for his family and for Palo Alto are a model for us all," Burt wrote on Town Square, the online community forum. "Gary has led us with his exceptional combination of passion, civility and selfless commitment. We will miss him deeply, but his inspiration will continue. There is only one 'Mr. Palo Alto,' and that is Gary Fazzino."
State Sen. Joe Simitian, a close friend of Fazzino and also a former Palo Alto mayor, said Wednesday that Fazzino and Palo Alto were a natural fit over many decades.
"He loved the town, and the town loved him," Simitian said.
Simitian and Fazzino had been best friends since they met in 1967 on their first day at Palo Alto High and discovered a mutual love of politics. They were roommates for a time after college.
Fazzino was a "wonderfully complicated guy, with wide-ranging interests, from his religious studies at Stanford to his deep interest in public policy-making and politics.
"He had a wonderful mix of old-school values and 21st-Century aspirations. He spent his career in the tech world, dealing with business around the world, but Palo Alto was his home, first and last.
"He was a hometown guy with worldwide sensibilities."
Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, a longtime friend and council colleague, said he should be considered Palo Alto's "permanent mayor."
"He was one of the giants of our political world," she said of his local and regional impact.
Even those who disagreed with him regarded him with respect.
"Gary Fazzino was a worthy opponent," Palo Alto resident Craig Laughton wrote on Town Square. "He supported the (1999-2000) historic homes measure, and I opposed it. He told me that I was a lone wolf and that I should join the effort to compromise. I said that I would not because it was wrong.
"With a cheerful smile on his face, he said I would lose. Once my side won, he saw me and said, 'There are probably more lone wolves in Palo Alto than I realized.' I thought that was big of him.
"He was a stand up guy who could disagree, with a smile."
Debbie Mytels, a local environmentalist, called Fazzino "an amazing leader from a very young age, always ready to lend a hand, caring for many aspects of our community, from education to the environment and civic involvement."
"He leaves a legacy of service that will inspire many of us to further work for the common good," Mytels wrote on Town Square.
Fazzino is survived by his wife, Annette; their twin children, Matthew and Julia, 5; and by three siblings: Donna, an East Bay resident, Brian of Saratoga, and Wayne of Nevada.
Memorial services are pending.
TALK ABOUT IT
Share your memories of Gary Fazzino, and those of other readers', on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.
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