Jerry Thorne, the former councilman and four-term mayor who served as a leading voice for the city government amid Pleasanton's growth and evolution during the 2010s, died unexpectedly at his home in Arizona on Sunday. He was 77.
A Tennessee native who relocated to Pleasanton during his long corporate career, Thorne first made his mark on city politics as a volunteer with the Pleasanton Seahawks advocating for swimming facilities and later joined the Pleasanton Parks and Recreation Commission before serving more than seven years as a regular City Council member and then another eight years as mayor.
Thorne and his wife had moved from Pleasanton to the Grand Canyon State last summer looking for a change of pace and scenery after Thorne's post-retirement career in civic governance wound down upon being termed out of the mayor's seat in November 2020.
"Mayor Thorne was a good and decent man, who was a committed husband, father, grandfather, friend, and public servant. He loved Pleasanton and led this community for nearly two decades as an elected official with honor and grace," former city manager Nelson Fialho told the Weekly on Monday.
"He was committed to the improvement of Pleasanton by advocating for several community projects, including the city's Callippe Golf Course, Bernal Community Park and Open Space Area, Firehouse Arts Center, Alviso Adobe Community Park, and the renovation of the Veteran Memorial Building -- to name just a few," added Fialho, whose tenure included all of Thorne's 15-plus years on the dais.
"But his most significant and lasting legacy was his unwavering commitment to various veteran causes. He never missed a soldier's homecoming and was always present to greet them home with a friendly smile, words of encouragement, and as a sincere and thankful representative of the city," Fialho said. "I will miss him. My sincere condolences to his family for their loss."
Thorne is survived by his wife Kalee Thorne, daughter Keri Thorne Gough and two grandchildren. His first wife Sandra "Sandi" Roy Thorne died during his third term as mayor from complications during cancer treatment.
The cause of Thorne's death on Sunday afternoon appeared to be unexpected natural causes, but confirmation is pending. Flags on city poles will be flown at half-staff in the former mayor's honor through Tuesday.
With Thorne's trademark Southern drawl and calm demeanor in the head chair, the city government navigated oft-debated issues of residential and commercial growth, infrastructure needs, water reliability and local control -- with the coronavirus pandemic and social justice reform then thrust into the forefront during Thorne's final year on the dais.
"As an elected official and active citizen, Jerry Thorne made many positive contributions to our community over a long tenure of service. His sense of civic duty and love for Pleasanton was evident in all of his leadership roles," Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin told the Weekly.
Councilwoman Kathy Narum said, "After dedicating 25 years of his retired public life to public service in Pleasanton, I'm devastated that Jerry wasn't able to fully enjoy everything he had planned for Kalee and himself. He lived his life as a good, decent and honest man. We will miss him and my thoughts are with Kalee, Keri and her family at this time."
In an interview with the Weekly last June just before his departure to Marana, Ariz., near Tucson, Thorne cited among his proudest accomplishments city park improvements, Highway 84 widening and safety projects between Livermore and Sunol, and the positive working relationship among the five Tri-Valley municipalities to achieve regional goals.
"I enjoyed my tenure as mayor. I enjoyed my tenure as a council member, as a park and rec commissioner. It's an experience I wouldn't take anything away from," Thorne told the Weekly last year, reflecting on his civic career. "Most of the really positive things were the parks that we managed to build, the activities that we managed to build for the community's kids."
Raised in Tennessee, where he later graduated from Union City High School (Union City, Tenn.) and earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee at Memphis, Thorne served in the U.S. Army before a long professional career that included nearly 30 years with Hewlett-Packard and its affiliated company Agilent Technologies until retiring in 2002.
Moving to Pleasanton in his 20s, Thorne was first thrust into city politics years later through his volunteer leadership with the Seahawks swim club and their members' and supporters' effort to bring a 50-meter pool to the city's aquatic center.
"I kind of got that done as a civilian, but I got to cut the ribbon as a park and rec commissioner," Thorne recalled last June.
Thorne spent 10 years on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission before earning election to the City Council on a special ballot in June 2005. He won re-election to full council terms in 2006 and 2010, and then successfully campaigned for the mayor's seat in November 2012 -- winning the first of four consecutive two-year terms.
Interim City Manager Brian Dolan commended Thorne for a "long and impactful 25-year public service career" in Pleasanton.
"His advocacy for enhancing our quality of life and expanding activities for residents, in addition to his focus on transportation projects that helped alleviate regional commuter traffic, are among long-lasting achievements that will continue to benefit the Pleasanton community and its citizens for many years," Dolan said in a statement.
Much of Thorne's early mayoral tenure focused on continuing to help guide the city through a time of considerable residential development accelerated as part of a 2010 settlement with two affordable housing coalitions and the California Attorney General's Office over Pleasanton's housing cap.
Amid that growth and at times tense public debates, Thorne said he would often look toward compromise solutions with developers, neighborhoods and fellow council members.
In city service, Thorne found himself as a strong advocate for inter-agency collaboration in the Tri-Valley to better accomplish shared regional goals while striving to retain local control.
"I think the relationships that we developed between the Tri-Valley cities is something that I really point to as a positive ... we were able to get together and accomplish so much in terms of funding, Highway 84 and things of that nature," Thorne told the Weekly last June.
He was a leading voice representing Pleasanton regionally in the Bay Area, statewide through the League of California Cities and nationally through annual attendance at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Thorne also served as an elected member of the Alameda County Republican Central Committee for several months during his final year as mayor before resigning ahead of his move to Arizona.
Public officials throughout the Tri-Valley offered reflections on Thorne upon his death on Monday.
"My condolences go out to the Pleasanton community and to Mayor Jerry Thorne's family and friends. As a fellow veteran, he always took good care of our service members and Veterans. Fair winds and following seas Mayor Thorne," Dublin City Councilman Shawn Kumagai said on Twitter.
"Sad to hear this news. Jerry was a true and dedicated servant to Pleasanton and our broader Tri-Valley. He put good policy before politics every time. And he was a good friend to all. Grateful for his life of service and friendship. Rest In Peace, Mayor Thorne," former state assemblywoman Catharine Baker tweeted.
A funeral service for Thorne will be held at 3 p.m. next Friday (April 8) at St. Clare's Episcopal Church on Hopyard Road in Pleasanton, followed by a reception in his honor at the Senior Center on Sunol Boulevard.