My father passed away two weeks before my 15th birthday so I’ve spent the past 25 years looking for father figures, mentors so to speak. In business, I’ve had two GREAT ones, Tommy T the Body Piercer and John Graham the CPA. This is my tribute to my Political Father…
There are many variations on the Gore-net of this Winston Churchill quote, but I think I like this one best, “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”
I had spent my late 20s tinkering around with politics, but it wasn’t until my early 30s when I decided to step up and do it right, so I sent an email to the Republican Party of Orange County asking how to get involved. Seriously, I expected a volunteer or some office clerk to send me a brochure or mailer, if any response at all.
Instead, Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Tom Fuentes called me up and invited me to his office for a chat.
Now keep in mind, I wasn’t really the short-haired fine looking Gentleman you see today. No, I was in the midst of my Harley-riding/hair-past-my-shoulders/leather-jacket-wearing/sun-burnt/sand-in-my-hair-from-my-morning-surf self. There was no reason why this Chairman Fuentes would have any interest in getting me involved with the “Most Republican County” in the US of A, right?
On the contrary, and a month later, Tom Fuentes and I were on a road trip driving up to the California Republican Party Convention in Sacramento…with my new short haircut.
But I was no more special than any other person calling Tom up on how to get involved with the Republican Party of Orange County. And over the next 10 years, I really got to see how welcoming he was to everyone who wanted to be a Republican in Orange County, regardless of how liberal or conservative your thinking was. How your relationship developed with Tom depended on what kind of Republican you became, though…
So for the next decade, being next to Tom was like being next to the Hot Chick at the Party. At every event, he would sit there, and people would come to him. And because you were sitting next to him, you’d get introduced to everyone…Congressman this, Assemblyman that.
And Tom and I became friends.
But except for a small handful of times, we never really talked about politics. Our discussions were always about life as he guided me through the turbulent times of my marriage, through the birth of my triplets, through my divorce, and into my life today, telling me recently that this is the happiest he’s ever seen me.
But although we rarely talked about politics, everything I know today about politics is because of him, everything I know about loyalty is because of him, and everything I learned about leadership is because of him.
And this is the exact same story that numerous people can recount about Tom. He took that mentorship role with everyone who was willing to learn, for generations of young, and old, Republicans.
I say all this because Tom has Lung Cancer. A few years ago, he had a liver transplant, but it turned out that the cancer had remained and came back, even in his new liver with the cancer now spreading to his lungs.
Of course, Tom learned this the week after returning from another road trip up to the California Republican Party Convention in Sacramento, this time with his son T.j. joining us. We had thought that his nasty and persistent cough was because of that cold that everyone had. Turns out, we were wrong.
And last week, as I sat there with him in his room, he unable to leave his bed now, how do you say thank you to the man who because of him, I write this column today; because of him, I exist.
How do you keep your thoughts straight when he’s asking you to perform a role in his funeral?
So I thanked him. Then I thanked him again.
And while Michelle, T.J. and Joey will be losing their father, I, for the second time in my life, will be losing a father, too.
I am forever blessed and honored to have shared your time, Tom. You’ve shaped my life like you can never imagine.
Thank you, Tom, and I love you.