The Hoppy Hopkins Research Library on the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum (4th & B Streets) has many oral history tapes, as well as biographical files related to Petaluma’s early settlers, founders, and civic leaders. Many citizens of today do not know their names; consequently, we post a brief description of their contribution to our favorite “River Town,” periodically. The following information about Jack Cavanagh, one of Petaluma’s longest serving City Council members, was found among the newspaper articles in the museum’s files.
When Jack retired from the council in 1992, at age 73, he had served 30 years as a city council member. During his seven terms on the council, he had seen Petaluma change from a small, agricultural community to a regional employment center. He died three years later, age 76.
After arriving in Petaluma, in the 1850s, Jack’s great grandfather opened the Cavanagh Lumber Co., in 1867. Jack, Jr., a fourth-generation Petaluman, was born in the former Hillside Hospital on Kentucky Street on November 23, 1919. He graduated from St. Vincent High School and Santa Rosa Junior College, and worked in the family business prior to serving in the U.S. Army during WWII.
In the mid-1950s, Jack became interested in local politics and was a member of a group that made a proposal that would change the city charter so that a mayor would run the city rather than a city manager. It failed to get the voters approval. In 1957, he was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, but his first two attempts for election to the City Council also failed. He did not quit. He was elected to his first of seven terms in 1963. Over the years, Jack served as vice-mayor, as well as a member of many commissions, committees, and sub-committees. Regionally speaking, he also served on the Association of Bay Area Governments, the League of of California Cities, and the Bay Area Sewer Service Agency. His two attempts to be a county supervisor failed however; losing to Helen Putnam in 1978 and 1982.
Even though many citizens may not have agreed with all his political stands, they respected him. For example, a few quotes, found in the local newspapers:
“He doesn’t hold grudges, displays few flashes of anger and is unfailingly polite, qualities that have endeared him to a legion of friends and admirers.”
“He’s been courteous, considerate toward people and generally in a more agreeable mood toward anyone who comes to the podium (to speak) than anyone else.”
“He was always a friend of the people. His concern was just to do right by the people.”
“He was honest in everything he did. He had class.”
Lest we forget John W. Cavanaugh, Jr.