Los Angeles’ ‘cheerleader,’ Tom LaBonge, 67

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

LARCHMONT LEADER Joane Heggenberger Pickett and other fans celebrate the Boulevard with Councilman LaBonge in 2006. Photo by Wiley Pickett

Former City Councilman Tom LaBonge brought his love of Los Angeles and enthusiasm everywhere he went, from his regular hikes in Griffith Park, to dining at Pink’s Hot Dog stand and to city streets, where he would help city crews pick up trash.

He lit up the Larchmont Chronicle offices when he walked in with a boisterous hello, and, during the holidays, he brought loaves of pumpkin bread and yearly calendars featuring photos of Los Angeles landmark vistas shot by the avid photographer.

He continued his Chronicle visits even after he had retired from District Four in 2015, with the last time being the Tuesday afternoon before his unexpected death Thurs. Jan. 7.

No one was a bigger spokesman for Los Angeles than LaBonge, whose drives throughout the city in his Ford Crown Victoria were legendary, with his passengers reporting on LaBonge’s frequent stops to help a pedestrian cross the street or showing up to get pot holes filled or trash picked up.

It was in his early days in public service, when working with Mayor Tom Bradley’s youth program, that LaBonge learned a lifelong lesson after he saw Bradley jump-start a woman’s car — always carry jumper cables, for himself, but mostly for others.

LaBonge, 67, died at his Silver Lake home, not awakening from a nap on his living room couch. The cause of death has not been confirmed.

Park memorial fund

AT DODGERS 2017 playoffs, LaBonge (far left) is joined by (left to right) Jennifer Fain, Chronicle publisher John Welborne, and Bill Fain. Selfie by Tom LaBonge

After consultation with his widow, Brigid, the Los Angeles Parks Foundation announced plans to set up a memorial fund in LaBonge’s honor.

“We are heartbroken over the passing of former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, a dear friend and champion of our city parks for more than four decades,” Parks Foundation Executive Director Carolyn Ramsay wrote in a tribute.

“During 40 years of service in city government, Tom oversaw the improvement of many beloved parks… He notably spearheaded the expansion of Griffith Park by over 200 acres, helping protect urban wilderness around the iconic Hollywood Sign.”

He also helped guide Hancock Park and Windsor Square as they became Historic Preservation Overlay Zones.

During his service as an appointee to the Metro board during the Mayor Villaraigosa administration, LaBonge worked with Beverly Hills and others to move forward with the long-stalled extension of the Wilshire subway.

He was a huge fan of the Los Angeles Zoo, from its children’s programs to its animals. “He was quick to tell anyone he came across about the wonderful work being done to save animals from extinction at their Los Angeles Zoo,” said Denise M. Verret, Zoo CEO and director.

“Mr. Los Angeles”

FOUNDER of the Larchmont Chronicle, Jane Gilman, with Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Known as Mr. Los Angeles for an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s haunts and history, LaBonge also was vital in the formation of the Sister Cities program, connecting Los Angeles to urban centers worldwide.

Born in Los Angeles, LaBonge was the seventh of eight boys. His father, Robert LaBonge, worked for “Tidings,” a Catholic newspaper, and his mother was a homemaker.

His Irish grandfather was a  Los Angeles police officer from 1919 to 1949.

He joined Mayor Tom Bradley’s youth council after graduating from Cal State Los Angeles, in 1974. He later worked for Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, followed by working the next 15 years as a deputy to 4th District Councilman John Ferraro.

In 1993, LaBonge lost his first run for City Council to school board member Jackie Goldberg. He then became an aide to Mayor Richard Riordan.

Riordon penned a letter to the “Los Angeles Times” Jan. 17 calling LaBonge “a peacemaker… Honest, jovial and smart, he was a master navigator of our city’s complex bureaucracy, equally skilled at getting streets fixed and calming upset residents.”

When Councilman Ferraro died, LaBonge, who then was Ferraro’s chief deputy, won a special election to fill his seat and served the 4th District from 2001 to 2015.

“No one knew more Angelenos, no person gave more waking hours to our city, no one was a greater cheerleader for our town than Tom,” Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted after news of his death.

Read local tributes at “Neighbors Remember Tom LaBonge” in the “Larchmont Buzz:” tinyurl.com/y2zdtzf5In addition to his wife Brigid, he is survived by daughter Mary-Cate and son Charles and five of his brothers.

The pylons at Los Angeles International Airport and the exterior of City Hall were lit in Dodger blue Jan. 8 to honor Councilmember LaBonge as well as Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, who also died Jan. 7.

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