Much has been written, and assumingly will be written, about Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Emeritus Tom Fuentes, who just passed away after a long bout with cancer. After multiple battles with cancer and fighting it valiantly, The Lord called Tom home late last night.
Winston Churchill was often called “The Last Lion,” and Ted Kennedy was often called “The Lion of the Senate,” it could said that Tom Fuentes was the “Lion of Orange County.” Few, if any, have ever been more influential in Orange County politics than Tom, his impact on Republican politics is literally immeasurable. He was truly a statesman and principled to his core. Tom defeated political foes who had conspired to replace him as OC GOP chairman, and stood tall on his principles in those battles. Though Chairman Fuentes never sought the limelight or public office beyond Community College District Trustee he became a standard bearer for conservative principles. Through his life of activism and leadership surely Tom was given opportunities to sell his beliefs down the river for personal gain, he never waivered.
In the world of politics where self-interest is rampant, loyalty is fleeting, true friendship is all too rare and principles are routinely abandoned, Tom Fuentes was an oak. Everything he did in politics had one sole purpose: “the cause.” The conservative cause, as Tom described it at the 2011 OC GOP Flag Day Salute, dedicated to “people and noble ideas.” Tom properly personified those noble ideas dedicated to people rather than money or power. He was not involved in politics for any reason other than he believed in conservative principles, he believed they served people well, he believed they served our country well, and his actions were driven by advancing those principles. Not only was he a great mentor and teacher, he was a shining example. Tom was the real deal because he actually cared about principles over politics…he was a statesman.
Tom was an incredible political leader, but more importantly he was amazing human being. His enormous generosity, zest for life and genuine kindness and care for others are lessons I will remember for the rest of my life. Like so many others I was fortunate to come to know Tom as a friend and a mentor. He was always unbelievably selfless with his time, knowledge and advice on nearly any issue whether it was political or personal. No matter who you were if you wanted to meet with Tom he would find the time and offer any advice he could give.
Despite all the attention and friendships Tom gained through politics it was his service to others that really defined him. He was the founding chairman of the Orange County Food Bank and active in many other charities. He spoke glowingly of the accomplishments of his children Michelle, TJ and Joey; and his wife Jolene was the joy of his life. Tom was active in the Catholic Church and had an unshakable faith in God. In fact when I learned of Tom’s cancer returning I asked him if there was anything I could do for him, all he asked for were my prayers. I would often joke with Tom that I could only offer protestant prayers, to which he replied he appreciated both the prayers and the humor.
And that’s who Tom Fuentes was. He was a sincere and joyful man. Even in the face of terminal cancer he shared stories and jokes when I visited him at his bedside. Several times in his last few months he would tell me he was going to switch political parties because it would be better for the Democrats to lose one than for us to lose one. Despite all the odds Tom beat cancer once and far outlived every doctor’s predictions when it returned. Through all the pain and treatment he always stood strong with grace, serving as an example yet again.
Reflecting on his passing I’m reminded of the words of late North Carolina State coach Jimmy Valvano’s words when he was faced with cancer: “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” The Chairman Emeritus exemplified those sentiments in his own battle and will live on because of it also.
Goodbye Tom, The Lord has called you home after a job most well done, and now all we can do is humbly say “Thank you.”