Kathy Mazza has always seemed to be part of the Sonoma landscape, whether as a volunteer or a city employee or just someone who seemed to show up everywhere, bringing her own bright energy into the room.
So when she died last week, at 72, it was felt as a personal loss, not a civic one. “It was very sudden. Nobody expected this. Not her family, not her friends,” said one of those many friends, Larry Murphy.
Kathy was the widow of a former mayor and longtime fire chief, Al Mazza, whom she met during the time she worked at City Hall. Former City Manager Brock Arner recalls that Kathy was hired as a receptionist in 1980, but was quickly recognized for her drive and talent and eventually promoted to administrative assistant to the city manager.
“She was really wonderful at organization – I’d call her an ‘organizational queen,’” said Arner. “It was great having her at council meetings because she was very good at understanding people and what was motivating them.”
She also helped keep both the business of government and the social pleasures of the town in balance. “She was the unofficial city event planner – she got the Christmas party going, the annual mini-golf tournament, the picnics organized,” remembered Cathy Lanning, still working with the city as administrative services manager.
Al Mazza was her second husband, a second-generation Sonoman whose name become synonymous with the Sonoma Valley Fire department – literally. He worked first as a volunteer fireman and then for 23 years as fire chief; when he retired from that post in 1992, he wasn’t done yet. He served eight years on the City Council, two terms as mayor, while becoming fully engaged with many other civic causes, including the Field of Dreams, Little League and Pop Warner.
Together the Mazzas served as the Sonoma Alcalde and Alcaldesa in 2006, receiving the official cane of office as honorary “mayors” from 2005 Alcaldesa June Picetti Sheppard before passing it on to Phyllis Carter the next year.
“They never wanted the glory, or the recognition. They didn’t do it for political power or influence. They just wanted the job to get done,” wrote Bill Lynch in the Index-Tribune upon their assuming the office.
But she was never in the shadows. “Kathy Mazza was a real live wire, and kept the City of Sonoma running and laughing for years,” said Kathleen Hill.
Sometimes that laughter came with an edge. “She loved to tease and be teased,” remembered Murphy. “You had to defend yourself sometimes but that was part of her charm. That’s what made people light up when she walked into a room – you knew things were going to get interesting!”
After she ended her 17 years in City Hall in 1997, she went on to help establish the Red and White Ball, worked with the Teen Center and the Sonoma Community Center, and was often found cooking up a pot of something for Meals On Wheels, out of the Trinity Episcopal Church across from the East Spain Street home.
“There’d be times when I’d drop by and knock on her door, she’d have her apron on and her sleeves rolled up, she’d be making a big pot of something on the stove,” said Larry Murphy, himself another of those only-in-Sonoma characters whose life became entwined with the Mazzas.