Larry Lavagnino sat in his Santa Maria home last week, looking at his wife of 25 years with an expression that seemed to say, “What now?”
The former mayor began giving retirement another shot Dec. 18 after stepping down from the post he’s proudly held for a decade.
Maybe this time retirement will stick.
“Emotionally, I was ready for it,” said Lavagnino, who was appointed to the City Council in 1996, and became mayor in 2002 after retiring from Pacific Interstate Co. “I’m retiring.”
As for what’s next for the city’s beloved native son, Lavagnino said he hopes not a whole lot.
“I’m at an age now where I read a lot and I nap a lot,” he joked. “I read about Rome and Greece. I have plenty of books lined up.”
The Santa Maria High School and Allan Hancock College graduate has a long list of accomplishments that he turns to as highlights and reasons for letting someone else lead a community that has grown from 10,000 people in the late 1940s and early ‘50s to more than 100,000 people today.
“Before I became the mayor, there was no new library,” said Lavagnino, who is the city’s third-longest tenured mayor. “ There were no (new) fire stations. There wasn’t a transit center. There wasn’t a brand-new police department building. There wasn’t a Santa Maria River Bridge.”
The biggest highlights in Lavagnino’s mind have been securing more than $46 million in federal funding toward making improvements to the Santa Maria River Levee, and voting for the new Santa Maria Public Library.
The Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center and four new fire stations also were constructed during his tenure.
“Now it’s up to them,” Lavagnino said of the new council. “I told the City Council before I left, I will not come back and second-guess you. I did my job, and now it’s on you.
“I think I left them in pretty darn good shape. I think they’re going to do a great job.”
Lavagnino said he was humbled during his last City Council meeting as he accepted so many compliments and remarks from fellow council members and residents.
Honesty, integrity and impartiality were among admirable qualities mentioned.
Patino joked that she’ll be calling Lavagnino for advice and taking it if she likes what the veteran has to say.
Many commented on what seems to be Lavagnino’s motto of saying, “Life is good.”
“It’s truly been a great ride,” said City Manager Rick Haydon. “Sir, you’ve been very good to the city of Santa Maria. You’re part of our family. You are our patriarch.”
Lavagnino was warmed by an unexpected, touching speech from his son, Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. When the younger Lavagnino choked back tears and called his father his best friend, the elder one couldn’t help but lose his composure.
“When he got up, I knew it was going to be emotional,” Lavagnino said. “He knows what it’s like to be an elected official. This is a really rough game.”
Lavagnino thanked city staff; his adoring, patient wife, Donna, and the rest of his small family; and the community for allowing him the privilege of being mayor of his hometown.
With newly acquired free time, Lavagnino said, he and his wife plan to travel, possibly to visit grown grandchildren who are spread throughout the country.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “My wife literally is the wind beneath my wings, like the song. I was out many, many nights. She’s a special, special lady.”
Their first stop will be Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia in a couple weeks, at which time Donna will finally have her husband all to herself.
“Then we’ll go from there,” he said.