The public record is unclear about when Herb Golenpaul first attended a meeting of the Sonoma City Council – his wife, Tessa, thinks it was sometime around 2005 – but once he did, he quickly became a fixture, selecting a seat in the first two or three rows, close to the public podium where he frequently rose to lecture members of the council or question their decisions.
Golenpaul was brutally frank, strongly opinionated and sometimes factually wrong.
He was also painstakingly courteous, quick to praise when he felt praise was appropriate and refreshingly succinct, seldom exceeding the council’s three-minute public comment limit, even as other speakers sailed stubbornly past the time-out bell.
Herb Golenpaul died on Friday, Dec. 13, at the age of 92, and the feelings of many who knew him, or at least witnessed his ubiquitous presence in the council chambers, reflected both sadness and appreciation.
Former mayor and council member Joanne Sanders, who last visited Golenpaul two months before his death, confessed, “At first I thought he was just another gadfly, but he wasn’t, he really wasn’t. He was just a doll.”
Sanders added, “He would disagree with us a lot, but was respectful always.”
Current council member and former mayor Ken Brown had nothing but words of praise for Golenpaul. “Every city council in America needs a Herb Golenpaul. He was an institutional memory, he had a real caring for his city and for those governed it. He had a great sense of humor. He wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power. He was an amazing guy. I feel grateful to have counted Herb as a friend.”
Sonomans familiar with Golenpaul’s biweekly appearance at City Council meetings can be excused for assuming that council proceedings were how he filled his time. In fact, Golenpaul was deeply involved in several parallel worlds, each of which could have occupied all the free time of the average retiree.
Since 1982, he had been a volunteer for, and eventually a board member of On Lok, the San Francisco nonprofit agency noted for pioneering healthcare services for senior populations.
And during the same time, he became a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the uniformed volunteer body of the U.S. Coast Guard charged with numerous non-combat, non-law enforcement roles, including seamanship training, vessel inspection, engine repair and countless other volunteer tasks.
Golenpaul was a member of USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 14, headquartered in Marin, and his impact on fellow auxiliary members was so profound, they produced a leather-bound book chronicling his contributions, complete with a proclamation detailing his 6,025 hours of service and nearly 50 awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation and the Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation.
So beloved was Golenpaul by the Coast Guard that a Flotilla Commander proclaimed last July 10 to be Herbert P. Golenpaul Day.
His devotion to boats and the Coast Guard only emerged after a 1981 heart attack and subsequent multiple bypass surgery. During his recovery, his wife Tessa explained, he met another heart attack patient who had a sailboat and belonged to the auxiliary. That relationship led to his first sailing experience and he soon fell in love with boats.