SACRAMENTO -- Some of the biggest names in California politics gathered in the state Capitol on Wednesday to eulogize John Vasconcellos, the eccentric, liberal lawmaker who represented the heart of Silicon Valley for 38 years.
Vasconcellos, who died at his Santa Clara home last month at age 82, was remembered as a man defined by his belief that there's good in every person and that his role as a lawmaker was to change society for the better.
His friends and former colleagues also reflected on his reputation as a shabby dresser who often wrote in capital letters and always drove a convertible -- even in the rain.
"He was one of a kind. Unusual," said Gov. Jerry Brown, the first of a dozen speakers at the late afternoon memorial service in the Senate chamber. "Maybe someday if we get rid of term limits, we'll have those characters again."
Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, longtime state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton and former Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata were just a few of the many California politicos who attended the service.
Vasconcellos spent 30 years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. He gained national fame in the mid-1980s after Republican Gov. George Deukmejian signed legislation creating the Democrat Vasconcellos' pet project: The California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem, Personal and Social Responsibility.
In Sacramento, Vasconcellos was powerful because of his role chairing the influential Assembly Ways and Means Committee budget committee. But that status was ironic, said Board of Equalization member Betty Yee.
"John despised the interaction of money and power," said Yee, one of the many former Vasconcellos staff members who attended the service and spoke of their former mentor with great emotion.
One of Vasconcellos' closest friends during his long tenure as a lawmaker was Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who served in the Legislature beside him.
She drew thunderous laughter from the crowd when she described the "Vasco World" folder she kept for the emails Vasconcellos was famous among friends for sending out daily with his thoughts on politics and social justice -- TYPED IN ALL CAPS, of course.
"When John ran for eighth-grade class president, he lost by one vote because he couldn't bring himself to vote for himself," Bowen said. "He really struggled with modesty and humility, but the reality of operating in politics is it's hard to be modest and humble and get anything done.
"Yes, he could be selfish, petty and angry at times, but I can't help but wonder if John is up there sitting down to write a paper on a smarter way to organize heaven."