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Richard DeWees: Mayor of Lompoc

1948-2009


Dick DeWees will be remembered for many reasons. He was theatrical, musical, and witty. He was a businessman, a member of more city government-related groups than I can name, and the mayor of Lompoc. But I will always remember him as Dad.

I always knew my dad was a great guy-friendly, caring, and generous. We liked him, our friends liked him, our neighbors liked him. After his death, though, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who had been touched by his life. Those who fought my dad politically left the kindest messages, saying that Dick DeWees was a good man and treated them fairly no matter what their political disagreements.

Dick Dewees at a march supporting La Purisima Mission in 2008
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Dick Dewees at a march supporting La Purisima Mission in 2008

I could write for pages about how my dad grew up in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, about his days as a theater major at Eastern Michigan University, and about how, after lots of the The Beach Boys and a single visit to Santa Barbara, he knew he wanted to live in California. I could speak of his professional accomplishments: in advertising, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, as a speech professor at Allan Hancock College. I could recount how, as mayor of Lompoc for the past 11 years, he helped revitalize downtown, build the award-winning Aquatic Center, get broadband Internet in the city, and keep utility costs low, among other things.

But my best memories of Dick DeWees have nothing to do with his being a mayor. They’re memories of being ridden to bed on my dad’s back and tucked in at night; of being kissed and told “I love you” every day of my life. He was the definition of unconditional love. Both my parents encouraged and supported me to be my own person, proud of where I came from and confident in where I was going. My dad gave his whole heart and soul to his family, and not a day went by that I didn’t feel entirely loved by him.

I believe that things happen for a reason. My parents brought my brother and me from Santa Barbara to Lompoc in 1987. My dad liked that Lompoc was a small town, much like where he spent his childhood. He enjoyed living in a place where you felt good about raising a family, with the people, and the beautiful coastline and valley.

He was successful in his first run for mayor, and in the five elections that followed. My dad respected people’s opinions, listened, did research. He went to every event he possibly could, including American Youth Soccer Organization opening days, new business ribbon-cuttings, Old Town Market on Friday nights, even birthday parties for the young and old. Simply put, my dad loved being the mayor of Lompoc.

But enough about that. My dad was so much fun. He knew almost everything about American history and ‘60s music. I am forever grateful for the love he instilled in me for Converse shoes, soft-serve ice cream, and Motown. He was accused, on occasion, of being a questionable dresser. If he wanted to wear his red high-top Converse with a business suit, then he would. If he wanted to don a Hawaiian shirt with slacks for church on Sunday, why not? I remember my dad dressing up many Halloweens in a hideous pair of baggy neon pants, a silly T-shirt, and a blue tinsel mullet wig. He would answer the door to the trick-or-treaters, wax lips on, and pass out candy. Some kids would laugh, some kids would cry, and I was severely embarrassed every single year. Now, I totally get it: What is the point of living if you aren’t having fun?

My dad was really good at making people laugh. He would do anything-and I mean anything-to hear his granddaughters’ giggles. The last evening I spent with my dad was in the hospital, with my mom and my husband, two days before my dad died. We ate hospital food and sat in his room, joking and laughing until our bellies ached. I have so many happy memories of sitting around my parents’ dining room table laughing and laughing and laughing; I think those were some of my dad’s favorite times, as well.

One Christmas, I bought my dad a plaque with John Wayne’s picture on it with the quote, “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” My dad was a fan of John Wayne, but, also, to me, the quote embodied everything my dad was about. He contended with cancer, heart problems, starting his own business, six mayoral elections, and two teenagers. He never gave up, and he never let on that he was ever worried or afraid.

From my dad, I learned not to take myself too seriously and not to worry until I had something to worry about. And even when I did have something to worry about, I learned to have faith in God and my family that everything would work out fine. My dad had heaps of accomplishments in this life. For us, his family, he saved his most acute attention, his biggest smiles, his heartiest laughs, and his unsurpassed love. I don’t think there ever was a more blessed family.



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