ANTIOCH -- Hearts were heavy throughout the community Monday after longtime and well-respected civil servant Gary Agopian died in the early morning following a 10-month-long battle with brain cancer. He was 57.

Agopian, a 19-year Antioch resident elected to the City Council in 2010, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last September. Despite the grim news, he vowed to continue to serve out his term, including campaigning for a half-cent sales tax last fall.

Past and present city leaders spoke glowingly about Agopian's intelligence and visionary ideas, knack for being prepared and positivity in bringing people with differing views together.

"He brought such a tremendous energy. He was a real asset to the community," said Walter Ruehlig, who was elected to the Antioch school board with Agopian in 2004.

Agopian had a calming influence and was dependable for "bouncing ideas off of," Ruehlig said.

Firmly committed to Antioch, Agopian continued to attend City Council meetings until late June while he battled Stage IV glioblastoma -- the last two meetings he was escorted in by family members in a wheelchair.

"His mind was still sharp. He didn't miss a beat," Mayor Wade Harper said.

Even in his last days before slipping into a coma on July 21, Agopian was trying to share ideas on how to help Antioch before he could no longer speak, his wife Robin said Monday.


Advertisement

Prayers and condolences from throughout the Antioch community poured in through social media upon hearing the news Monday.

"We have been blessed to have each and every one of you share in this 10-month journey ... you've shared your love through meals, gift cards, cards, phone calls, visits, housecleaning, prayers and so much more," Robin wrote Monday morning on Facebook.

"He encouraged so many of us to get involved in our city," resident Beverly Knight said. "I wrote Gary so many angry letters. He saw the passion and took the time to direct my passion where it would do the most good for Antioch. I really felt like he was approachable and explained things the average person wouldn't understand."

Before Agopian stepped into the political arena, he was a longtime business administrator. He spent 24 years working at Sears, rising up the management ranks to become a district human resources manager. After he was transferred to the Bay Area in 1995, Robin said their young family fell in love with a home in Antioch.

Years after transitioning into a job selling real estate in 2000, Agopian told his wife he wanted to get into politics when he retired to give back to the community.

"I remember telling him 'Why wait? We'll be fine, we'll make it work,'" Robin said. "It brings me some comfort that he was able to do that and accomplish his goal of making the community a better place."

In addition to his service on the school board and council, Agopian ran unsuccessfully for the county Board of Supervisors in 2008 and mayor in 2012, finishing second to Harper.

Some of Agopian's proudest moments included handing all three children their high school diplomas, baptizing them, walking his daughter down the aisle for her wedding and the birth of his first grandchild, she said.

Agopian also enjoyed hiking, swimming and staying active and was a prolific reader, especially of history. Often he was the "cheerleader on the sidelines" for his children's games, Robin said.

But, he was far from a spectator when it came to community service. Often he could be spotted with community members cleaning up graffiti or picking up abandoned shopping carts.

"For Gary, faith and service to the community were intertwined. It was a way of life," said former Mayor Donald Freitas, who appointed Agopian to the city's economic development commission in 2003.

Agopian continued waging war against graffiti while on the council, creating a committee to fight tagging. He also helped push forward a complicated annexation of 600 acres of industrial land to Antioch's northeast.

Agopian was often the most vocal and outspoken council member, particularly regarding the city budget, possible ferry service to the city and statewide water issues.

One item Robin said Agopian recently discussed with Freitas and local rodeo icon and friend Jack Roddy as a "last request" is to create a permanent shelter for the homeless, especially those young families with children.

"He saw that there are people who are hurting and the need to help," Robin said.

Services are tentatively set for Aug. 9 at Golden Hills Community Church, though details are still in the works.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

EPITAPH
GARY AGOPIAN
Born: April 28, 1957
Died: July 28, 2014
Birthplace: Los Angeles
Survivors: Wife Robin, sons Corey and Jason, daughter Heather Renard, granddaughter Kaylei.
Memorial Service: Aug. 9, Golden Hills Community Church, 2401 Shady Willow Lane, Brentwood.