Sonoma remembers Kathy Mazza

Kathy Mazza speaking at the dedication and naming of the Sonoma fire station after her husband, retired Fire Chief Albert C. Mazza. Steve Mazza, Al's son by his first marriage, is to her left. (File photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)


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.

“Dinner at Kathy’s house was always a memorable event, she really could cook,” said Murphy. Now Al Mazza’s gone, and Rose Murphy is in assisted living.

When Al Mazza died in 2010, after a lengthy battle with cancer, the new fire station on Second Street West was named after him by a unanimous vote of the City Council.

“She threw herself into her work with Meals on Wheels the same way she did with the Plaza Foundation or the Teen Center, or anything else she got involved with: 100 percent,” said Sue Holman of Meals on Wheels.

“And she kept us in fresh lemon juice and laughter,” said Suzanne Berube, also of Meals On Wheels. “She showed her generosity and community commitment through the delicious food she helped prepare.”

In recent years, Mazza found time to work at Cornerstone, as an unofficial concierge who could fill in for anyone who couldn’t get to work that day. “Kathy worked on and off at Cornerstone since the inception,” said general manager Dawn Smith. “She headed the welcome table on weekends and for special events.” She also assisted with tours when needed, and when she’d fill in for absent employees, she insisted the paychecks be made out to them, not her.

“I’m still in shock,” said Smith. “I miss her sense of humor already. She will be greatly missed by all of us here.”

That’s a common theme, people can’t believe she’s gone. It was only earlier this year, in February, that she was at a ceremony at the Al Mazza Fire Station to welcome the new fire chief, Steve Akre. Though Akre had lived and worked in Pinole for over 20 years before coming to the Sonoma post, he always thought of Sonoma as his home, and considered Al Mazza a mentor and an inspiration.

A few days after Akre took over the fire chief post, he got an unexpected surprise. “She dropped by the fire house and said, ‘I’ve got something I want you to have.’” It was Al Mazza’s fire chief badge, passed on to the new chief over 25 years after it had been retired. “It was incredibly humbling and a true honor,” said a moved Akre.

One Wednesday evening, June 21, her daughter Gina Clyde went to check on her, concerned that she hadn’t heard from her mother. She found lying on the side of her bed, gone.

“Not at all what I expected, as you can imagine,” said Clyde, a real estate agent in town. She’s still not sure what happened. “She had what we thought was a small case of shingles but her legs were really hurting. I am now wondering if she had a blood clot.” Clyde asked for an autopsy, results of which won’t be known for a couple weeks.

“It was very sudden, nobody expected this. Not her family, not her friends,” said Murphy. “You’d ask her how she was feeling and it was always ‘fine,’ but she wasn’t always fine. I know she had a lot of trips to the doctor recently. I guess she was keeping something that she didn’t want to talk about.”

Then he thought of something. “I think I still have several Tupperwares of food she made up in my freezer,” he said. “She kept me pretty regularly supplied since she knew I wasn’t doing a lot of cooking over here.”

“I half expect her to come in the door at the kitchen,” said Holman of Meals On Wheels. “We’re going to miss her so much. She was one of a kind.”

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