Gary Podesto could be described several ways through his eventful lifetime.

He was a star athlete, businessman, politician and the last person to win a second term as mayor of Stockton.

Podesto, who died last week at the age of 81, served as mayor from 1997-2005. He was known as a pro-business Republican who had strong views but was respected and respectful of his political adversaries.

“He was one of the hardest working mayors of all time,” said Duane Isetti, a former city councilman who was Podesto’s best friend from their days at St. Mary’s High School. “He was very influential. And he knew how to put politics aside when working on city issues.”

Podesto’s son, Chris Podesto, said his father passed away in Bozeman, Montana, where he and his wife, Janice, lived for the past few years.

“My father grew to be such an amazing man,” Chris Podesto said. “Really, the beauty of my Dad was he and Mom, and the love they had for each other. For us children, that was the most important thing to see.”

Current Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln said in a statement his prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Podesto’s family and friends. “His steadfast service to our community will forever be remembered and appreciated.”

If Lincoln chooses to run for reelection and wins, he’ll be the first to do it since Podesto accomplished the feat in 2000 while running unopposed. Since Podesto left office, three mayors — Ann Johnston, Anthony Silva and Michael Tubbs — attempted to earn a second term but were defeated. A fourth, Ed Chavez, retired after one term.

Chris Podesto said his father remembered his time as mayor “humbly.”

“He was honored to serve the community,” Chris Podesto said. “He had a desire to help Stockton and the community according to his vision. When his time in office concluded, he passed it on with elegance.”

Gary and Janice Podesto were married for more than 60 years. (Courtesy of Podesto family)

Gary Podesto was also the city’s first full-time mayor in his second term. Voters in 2000 approved a measure which granted the mayor more authority and a full-time salary.

He earned 62 percent of the vote in a three-person field to win the election of 1996. During his eight years in city hall, he pushed through plans for the revitalization of Downtown Stockton, which included the ballpark, arena and hotel on the waterfront, along with the movie theater and the refurbishing of Bob Hope Theatre.

Not everyone agreed with his vision. Johnson, who served as mayor from 2008-2012, was on the city council during Podesto’s first term. She said she agreed with him on several issues but was a strong critic of his plans to privatize the municipal utility department.

She added while there were political differences, it wasn’t personal.

“Overall, we got along fine,” Johnston said. “Gary was always respectful, always listened to everyone’s opinions and there was never any doubt how much he cared about Stockton. He always thought he was doing the right thing for the city.”

In 2004, Podesto challenged incumbent State Senator Michael Machado, but was defeated by five points. He was elected the chairperson of the San Joaquin County Republican Committee in the same year, and resigned from the post in 2005.

He and Isetti were in the same backfield for the St. Mary’s football team, but the biggest moment of his high school days was meeting Janice during their freshman year. They were married for over 60 years.

After high school, Podesto, a fullback, played football at Marquette University in Wisconsin. After the program was cut, he transferred to Santa Clara and earned a degree in economics.

He first managed his father’s grocery store in Tracy and later owned the local Food 4 Less supermarkets. His father, Max Podesto, also founded Podesto ‘s, in the Lincoln Village Shopping Center.

Gary Podesto sold the Food 4 Less stores when he entered politics. The stores are currently employee owned, and Chris Podesto is the general manager.

Chris Podesto said that later in life, his father developed a love for cooking, learning with the same zeal he always displayed.

“He had a tremendous work ethic and was very authentic,” Chris Podesto said. “That’s the key word: authentic. That’s what he taught me that I’m most proud of, to be authentic and treat people with respect.”

Gary Podesto is survived by his wife, children Kelly, Chris and Brent Podesto, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Chris Podesto said the family is planning a private ceremony.

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