If George Livingston's only distinction was being Richmond's first elected African-American mayor, it still would make for a distinguished epitaph. But colleagues and acquaintances insist he was bigger than that.
Livingston died Saturday morning at Doctors Hospital in San Pablo after a long battle with diabetes. He was 78.
"He was a leader and also a coalition builder," U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said. "He was able to work across the entire community. His goal was the development and growth of Richmond."
Livingston, an Oklahoma native, moved to Richmond with his family in 1952. He was elected to the Richmond City Council in 1965 and served three terms. He ran again, successfully, in 1973.
In 1985, Mayor Tom Corcoran died in office. Entrusted with appointing Corcoran's successor from among its own ranks, the council chose Livingston.
"They thought George would be the best person to unite the council and the communities in Richmond," said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, a Richmond resident. "If you look at his legacy, he really worked hard at trying to find common ground among City Council members."
When Livingston decided to run for the office in 1989, he did it with zeal.
"It was a really big deal," Miller said. "He went out and worked his tail off and got himself elected. It was a big event. Those were rough-and-tumble times."
"He certainly wanted development of the port," said former Richmond City
Livingston had a knack for bringing people together for a cause.
"He was a people's politician," Richmond Councilman Nat Bates said. "He had good relationships with all segments of the community. It wasn't just the black community. He reached out and had the respect and cooperation from everybody in the city. He was just that kind of mayor, a mayor for all the people."
His people skills extended beyond the political arena, McMillan said.
"He was also a caring person about friends," he said. "If he heard that you'd been ill for a day or two, he may show up at your house with a big bowl of soup. That's just the kind of person he was."
Yet McMillan and Bates both recall that Livingston had other methods of persuasion.
"Nobody as mayor has ever run a (City Council) meeting like he did," Bates said. "George didn't take any guff. He kept the meeting moving. You weren't there until 2 or 3 in the morning. He ruled that meeting with an iron fist, but he ruled it with respect and dignity."
"No one got out of order, including council people," McMillan said. "When he sounded the gavel, it was over. He disallowed personal attacks on council people. We didn't have to defend ourselves if someone made attacks that were purely personal."
Livingston served as mayor until 1993, when he was defeated by Rosemary Corbin in a re-election bid.
He left a legacy as a consensus builder and a towering figure in Richmond's political history. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., James Brown and Willie Mays, and could help launch a career at one of his celebrated parties.
"If you went, you had to know they were going to be political parties," Miller said. "If you were running for senator or governor, you'd drop by George Livingston's. I was very fortunate when I first ran. He supported and endorsed me, and that was critical."
"He was one of a kind who really cared about the city," McMillan said.
Livingston is survived by his wife, Eunice, son George Jr. and daughter Grace Livingston-Nunley. Funeral services are pending.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.