A Celebration of Gary K. Hart

May 7, 2022

Remarks of Michael DeLapa

Good afternoon. My name is Michael DeLapa and I’m a friend of Gary Hart and the Hart family. I want to make sure that’s on the record because it may not be entirely clear as I reflect on my relationship with Gary.

On behalf of Gary and Cary, their daughters Elissa, Katherine, and Laura, their families, and the extended Hart family, I would like to welcome you today to this grand celebration of a grand life. To Gary’s grand life. To the grand life of our beautiful friend.

Those of us speaking today will be sharing stories about Gary, his legacy as a husband, father, legislator, teacher, community leader, sports enthusiast, and all-around wonderful human being. Gary was a renaissance man in a time that badly needs renaissance. He was a humorist in a time that badly needs humor. And he was a Stanford sports enthusiast when that was badly needed, too.

Gary asked me to MC because he wanted someone who was renowned in Sacramento. Sidewalk-recognized. And of course I was the obvious choice. I mean, really, it’s not like he could have gotten the mayor to skip golf on a beautiful Saturday.

But before we get started, I want to introduce my understudy [Pointing to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on the side of the stage], whose name I’ve regrettably forgotten. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of an understudy. In most cases it’s someone who steps in when the lead is unable to perform. In this case the understudy is here to step in if and when the lead crumbles emotionally. So I’m prepared, and I hope you’re prepared, too.

Now, with that out-of-the-way let’s get started with the celebration. Let me kick things off by telling you a little bit about my history with Gary.

Gary and I had 35-year relationship of trash talking. I warned him when he asked me to do this that I intended to get the last jab in.

But he was well aware how much I dislike public speaking. As Al Franken said about Ted Cruz, “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.” And that’s how I feel about public speaking.

Last round of trash talking goes to Hart. But I’ll give it a go regardless.

I first met Gary in 1987 on Rich Leib’s couch. I drove from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica to interview for a job as Gary’s field representative. The interview was at 8 pm at the apartment of a guy I never met. That seemed a little strange to me. Even stranger was this tall, friendly, soft-spoken man who peppered me with questions – questions about Stanford, where we had gone, and basketball, which we played, and other sports, which we both enjoyed, and Italy, which we both had love for. Funny, he never asked about my qualifications or my politics. I asked him a few things, including where he was staying. When he pointed to Rich’s couch, self-identifying as a frugal-minded couch surfer, I knew we would be kindred spirits.

While I only worked officially for Gary for two years, I feel like we worked together forever. At times, it felt even longer. After I left his office, he would still call to ask my opinion on things I didn’t know a lot about – of which there is no shortage – which caused me to pause, research, think, and then state with certainty something I was pretty uncertain about. Gary humored me.

But he also humored me in the other sense: we laughed together. A lot. We both appreciated the absurdity of politics and the human condition. As bad as it can sometimes seem, it’s generally a lot worse. That’s especially true for Stanford football.

You’re going to hear a lot of people praise Gary today. They’re going to say a lot of wonderful things, talk about all of his good qualities. They’re not going to tell you about Gary’s faults. But I am.

Let’s start with his political ones.

Gary listened too carefully and asked too many smart questions. It used to drive me crazy when I would recommend a position on this or that and he wanted to know why. That simply felt disrespectful.

Gary also stuck to a strict code of ethics. Really? I mean, ethics are so twentieth century. Who even remembers them?

And finally, Gary was awful, really awful, at asking for money. Which meant he couldn’t be bought. Which made him stand out like a lost lottery ticket.

Beyond his political faults, Gary had many personal ones. Innumerable ones.

He wouldn’t eat cheese, which was obscenely inconsistent with his love for Italy.

Gary was far taller than necessary for ordinary life. His tallness was, I think, a way of making those shorter than him both appear and feel shorter. It was very intentional, even though he never said a word about it. And I can never forgive him for that.

I also can’t forgive him for not making use of his height for a higher purpose. Despite having three daughters who played D-1 volleyball, Gary didn’t play volleyball. Gary golfed, which we all know is a dark gateway for becoming a Republican.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Gary died shortly after golfing Pebble Beach. I warned him, nothing good ever comes from golf.

Gary was also a terrible role model. Just awful. I often reminded Gary, not with feigned displeasure, how he had submarined my political career. After working for Gary for two years the bar for public service was set so ridiculously high that I that I knew I could never match it. Nor with rare exceptions, like Naomi Schwartz and Darrell Steinberg, could other elected officials. If you’re still listening Gary, a real big thanks for that.

I could go on. And on. But I think you get the point. This is how Gary experienced me, and still he invited me to MC today’s ceremony. Because he didn’t want today to be about death and sadness and remorse and Donald Trump – sorry, Gary, that was a slip of the tongue. No, Gary wanted today to be about life and service and commitment and family and friends. Those who follow me will touch on those topics and more.

I’ll conclude with a story about a poem that reminds me of Gary. I first heard about it on a YouTube interview of Kris Kristofferson. It took me five years to uncover the author, the Chilean poet Eduardo Galeano. The poem Un mar de fueguitos roughly translates A Sea of Little Fires. It’s about a Columbian who climbs to heaven where he contemplates human life and sees that humanity is a sea of little fires. Now I quote,

The world is that—he revealed—A cluster of people, a sea of little fires. Each person shines with their own light among all others. No two fires are alike. There are large fires and small fires and fires of all kinds and colors. There are people of serene fire, unaware of the existence of wind, and people of crazy fire, who fill the air with sparks. Some fires, foolish fires, do not shine or burn; but others burn life so heartily you cannot observe them without stopping to blink. And whoever gets close, lights up.

Gary burned life so heartily, so fully, so brilliantly committed to his family, friends, and community, you could not be with him – even today — without stopping to blink. And you’ll forgive me if I’m blinking now.

And now for a performance of Amazing Grace and Leaving Again/Wee Small Hours by the Vocal Ensemble of the Natomas Charter School, Performing and Fine Arts Academy.

I would now like to introduce Gary and Cary’s daughters, Elissa Hart-Mahan, Katherine Hart, and Laura Murray

I’m delighted to introduce Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Gary’s close friend and former colleague and tennis and golf partner. He’s also the understudy whose name I couldn’t remember.

Next up is Rich Leib, another friend of Gary and former staffer. Rich is the Vice Chair, University of California Board of Regents and President & CEO, Dunleer Strategies

Our last speaker is Gary’s friend and mentee Jessie Ryan, who serves as Executive Vice President with the Campaign for College Opportunity.

I want to thank the Hart family, the speakers, the Vocal Ensemble for the opportunity to get together today and share stories and connections with Gary.

Before we adjourn to the courtyard for refreshments, I would like to remind you about the recently renamed Sacramento County Office of Education Gary K. Hart Resiliency Scholarship. The scholarship was created through the leadership of the Sacramento County Board of Education to encourage students who have demonstrated determination and resilience in overcoming obstacles, helping to support them as they graduate and pursue post-secondary education or vocational training.

In the words of David Gordon, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools, “Gary was a passionate advocate for children, and his impact on California education is unparalleled. The mission of this scholarship program is to support students with the greatest needs, and that mission is a reflection of Gary’s values.” If you would like to learn more about the scholarship fund and how to donate, please ask one of the Hart daughters.

On behalf of the entire Hart family, thank you very much for joining us today and honoring Gary. I know he would have been delighted to see so many smiling faces, enjoy your company, listen to the wonderful music, and bear stoic witness to my roasting remarks. Gary, wherever you are, know we are all better for having known you, as are millions of other Californians.

A quick update on what Gary’s up to. This from a note that he sent me a while back.

Mike — More reading for your trip. I think I will be a reference librarian in my next life. — Gary