Harry Armstrong, who left his mark on virtually every facet of Clovis and also countywide after nearly a half-century of service on the City Council, announced his resignation Wednesday.
Armstrong has battled illness for much of the past two years. He was given a release from Clovis City Council meetings while he was hospitalized with complications from pneumonia. More recently, he attended council meetings via teleconference.
Armstrong, who turns 86 next month, will be honored at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in a reception prior to the 6 p.m. City Council meeting, which will be his last.
He was re-elected in 2015 to his 12th four-year term, so his departure leaves the council with two open seats, the first time that’s occurred since council members Lynne Ashbeck and Nathan Magsig were elected 15 years ago. Magsig has been elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and is leaving the council.
The council could call for a special election coinciding with the March 2017 election or fill the seat through March 2019.
The new Clovis Transit Center at Third Street and Clovis Avenue will be named for Armstrong.
Not only was Armstrong instrumental in the development of Clovis, but he led efforts to get highways 168 and 180 built and has been a leader in county water projects.
“The region has Harry to thank for a lot of the positive things, and Clovis has a debt it never can repay,” said Clovis City Manager Robert Woolley. “I just think it came to the point that now would be the proper time.”
Magsig, who is mayor, said Armstrong will leave the council, but his spirit of principled leadership will remain.
Council Member Jose Flores, who has served with Armstrong 17 years, listed Clovis Community Medical Center, Old Town Clovis, Highway 168, the city’s Research and Technology Park, Clovis Police and Fire Departments’ headquarters and the city’s civic center as a few achievements Armstrong was involved in or spearheaded.
He put principles before politics; he is a true statesman, an icon.
Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig on Council Member Harry Armstrong
“Harry has given more to the city than the city can ever repay him,” Magsig said. “He put principles before politics; he is a true statesman, an icon. When you think about what local government service is about, you would see a picture of Harry Armstrong.”
Armstrong and fellow Council Member Patricia Wynne were the only members to come out of the Operation Rezone scandal unscathed. Both voted in the minority against development interests that had paid off other council members to get projects passed in the mid-1990s.
Wynne, who served two terms with Armstrong, valued his institutional knowledge, describing him as “an Encyclopedia Britannica with legs.”
“Harry’s contribution to Clovis is unparalleled,” she said. “He stood up for what was right in the city and the beautiful successful place you see today, Harry is in large part responsible for it.”
Council Member Bob Whalen said he was saddened Wednesday by Armstrong’s announcement.
“There is never going to be another Harry Armstrong nor will anyone be able to replace the drive and heart he had to do what’s right for Clovis … I’m just a little melancholy hearing the news.”
Whalen said Armstrong’s perspective was always worth hearing.
“I would pay very close attention because it comes from a very deep well of knowledge and experience,” Whalen said. “On those few occasions he would speak there was something very important needing to be said. It doesn’t mean I agreed with him or fully understood, sometimes it was really subtle, but it was always very thoughtful.”
Ashbeck, the lone incumbent seeking re-election in 2017, said Armstrong’s ethical leadership rubbed off on his fellow council members.
“The lesson Harry taught all of us was to never act in your own self-interest but always in the interest of Clovis,” she said. “If everyone in politics thought that way we would all live in much better communities. He just worked every day to make Clovis a better place, a singular focus over 46 years, remarkable service.”
Armstrong, who worked for Foster Farms, was on the planning commission for four years before being elected to the council in 1970.
He has served on the California League of Cities board for more than 27 years, most notably as president from 1982-1983, and served on the league’s Transportation, Communication and Public Works Policy Committee.
Clovis Unified had Doc Buchanan and the city of Clovis has Harry Armstrong.
Jose Flores, Clovis City Council member
Transportation and water have been his passion. He has served as chairman of the Fresno County Transportation Authority for 22 years. He has also served as chairman of the Fresno County Water Advisory Board for 13 years and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for 21 years.
Armstrong has received numerous awards, including the Rose Ann Vuich Ethical Leadership Award, League of California Cities’ Award for Service and Contributions to the Board of Directors, 2015 Fresno Council of Governments Regional Forum – Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence, Leadership & Commitment. He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named the grand marshal of the Clovis Rodeo Association in 2015.
Council Member Jose Flores, who has served 17 years with Armstrong, longer than other council members, listed Clovis Community Medical Center, Old Town Clovis, Highway 168, the city’s Research and Technology Park, Clovis Police and Fire Departments’ headquarters and the city’s civic center as a few achievements Armstrong was involved in or spearheaded.
Flores said Armstrong’s presence served as continuity for the council over the past five decades.
“He put Clovis on the map, Clovis Unified had Doc Buchanan and the city of Clovis has Harry Armstrong,” Flores said. “He was our true north, our compass.”