Longtime legislator and jurist George Zenovich was remembered in Fresno on Saturday by some of the state's most powerful lawmakers for his compassion, grace and humanity.
"He was a real human being," Gov. Jerry Brown said at the memorial service for Zenovich. "I always felt that way."
Zenovich, who served in the state Assembly and Senate in the 1960s and 70s and later became an appellate court justice and lobbyist, was described as the "epitome of cool." He never walked but "glided" into a room, had "Kennedy-esque" class, a great sense of humor and a groovy touch, often calling his colleagues, "Hey, baby."
His memorial service, attended by 200 people at Pardini's Catering and Banquets, was a "who's who" of politicos who recalled Zenovich's achievements affectionately, passionately, and with an air of fun.
The Fresno Democrat was instrumental in many pieces of landmark legislation that created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the California Arts Council and the California Housing Authority.
"Through all of that, he had a human touch," Brown said of Zenovich's talents as a legislator. "And it had nothing to do with parties, although he was strong at protecting the underdog, civil rights issues. He had real values. He knew what was right, and he had a sense of what was wrong, but he wasn't a partisan. Maybe that's because he was a musician, he'd get caught up in the thoughts."
When trying to come up with what to say at the memorial service, the governor said, he came across a quote by German classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
"Bach said, 'I played the notes, but it's God who writes the music,' and I feel that way about George Zenovich," Brown said.
Civil rights was important to Zenovich, many recalled, and he walked "arm-in-arm" with Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited Fresno.
During the memorial, a letter was read from the president of the United Farm Workers of America, Arturo Rodriguez, who also expressed condolences from the family of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Willie Brown, Jr., who served more than 30 years in the Assembly -- 15 years as speaker -- said Zenovich was "really talented, fully informed, and totally and completely trustworthy," and the "only white guy I ever knew who dressed like a brother -- he was so smooth."
Speakers said they never saw Zenovich get angry, or stoop to smear campaigns, and that he was a true "gentleman" -- kind and respectful.
Chuck Poochigian, associate justice of the California Court of Appeal and a former state senator, talked about Zenovich's ability to work across the aisle and count many Republicans among his friends.
Walter Karabian, who was Assembly majority leader in the 1970s and who, like Zenovich, grew up in Fresno, described Zenovich as "the gentlest soul I ever met."
"He used to call me sweetheart," he said with a smile. "But he called everyone that."
Karabian said one of Zenovich's great accomplishments was traveling to the Soviet Union during the Cold War and convincing the country to allow a group of Jews to go to Israel.
Master of ceremonies Richard Lehman, a former congressman and state legislator who is now a lobbyist, said the mantra "go with your gut" was one of the most valuable lessons he learned from Zenovich.
Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said Zenovich was a great mentor.
"To serve with George Zenovich was truly an honor," Costa said. "It was an honor because he taught you how to treat people and he was introspective, he cared, he let you know that you could make a difference, if you try and you trusted your gut."
Zenovich's daughter Marina shared a video of her dad's life that included clips from an interview in which he was asked about his life's work.
He responded, "Maybe people should think of me as a guy who made peace among people."
Marina Zenovich said she wished he could have seen how many lives he touched.
"Oh my God, what a life! What a life this guy had," she said tearfully. "He had looks. He had luck. He had class and style. A musician's heart, and an adventurer's soul. Dear ol' Dad, Zeno, may you be somewhere beautiful looking down on us and smiling. Swing, baby."
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