Goodbye to Mitch, Marty
One of our favorite images of Mitch Mulas came from late in his life on a sweltering afternoon in August 2008. Mitch had been named Grand Marshal of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, an honor that required he attend the lengthy pre-race ceremonies, pose briefly on a trackside podium while he was introduced to the crowd and stand around patiently waiting for the formalities to conclude and the race to begin.
The burden of waiting was lifted in some small part by four young women wearing big smiles and small outfits while carrying large umbrellas with which they protected Mitch from the summer sun.
Mitch was not an Umbrella Girl kind of guy, but the sight of that 80-year-old dairy farmer/fire chief surrounded by young lovelies crowding perilously close, his face looking at once delighted, embarrassed and baffled, was memorable.
But not nearly as memorable as the life he lived in this community, quietly, patiently, persistently doing the work that needed to be done, somehow wedging into his 12-hour days of farming enough extra time to serve on the Schell-Vista Volunteer Fire Department for some 70 years, more than 40 years as chief.
Along the way, Mulas spent 35 years on the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Board and 12 years as a trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.
He routinely dismissed this rampant volunteerism by simply suggesting, "If you live in a community, you should do something that benefits the area."
And he did.
On Tuesday, the outpouring of memories and affection, the presence of more than 30 engine companies, the almost palpable love and respect and the wailing bagpipe music that filled the empty space left by Mitch Mulas, coalesced into a eulogy more eloquent than mere words could ever be. But as the Rev. Michael Culligan quietly observed during the memorial service, a mighty tree has fallen in the forest leaving a space the rest of us must now try to fill.
The passing of Mitch Mulas carried so much weight it almost obscured another notable loss to the Sonoma Valley with the premature passing of Marty Cohn, the former A&R executive who discovered and signed the Doobie Brothers to their first recording contract, a step that also united them with Marty's brother Bruce, the Doobies' one and only manager.
Marty was something of a music industry legend with an intuitive ear for talent. His first signings led to three platinum albums and he was instrumental in the careers of Bruce Hornsby, Van Halen, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, Christopher Cross, Tower of Power, Ricki Lee Jones, Nicolette Larson and Graham Central Station, among others.
He spent his later years as vice president of sales for B.R. Cohn Winery and became a fixture in the lives of countless Valley residents who found comfort and joy in his quiet, caring presence. He was a familiar sight at the annual Cohn benefit concerts, his neck hung with cameras, his face wreathed in a warm smile. He will be missed.