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Former Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook Is Dead at 79

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By Jorge Casuso

December 11, 2020 -- Former Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook -- whose love for his native city steered his positions during a record 24 years on the City Council -- died on Friday after a long illness. He was 79.

Holbrook was long viewed as an independent voice on a Council sometimes prone to ideological pronouncements, serving as an elder statesman whose pragmatic approach was reflected in his campaign slogan -- "the voice of reason."

Bob Holbrook during 2010 elections
Bob Holbrook waiting for returns to show up on his computer at his campaign party in 2010 (Photos from the Lookout archives)

He won six elections, though sometimes narrowly, without the backing of the Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) powerful political machine and helped elect candidates who shifted the balance of power on the Council in the mid-1990s.

In a city known as "the home of the homeless," Holbrook led efforts to to crack down on aggressive panhandling and sleeping in public parks, and he pushed for better accounting of City-funded homeless services.

Later, he would oppose medicinal marijuana dispensaries and play an instrumental role in erecting a memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery honoring Santa Monica's fallen war veterans.

“Bob was the last of the previous generation of Santa Monica leadership, affable, amiable, and always quick with an anecdote," said Council member Kevin McKeown, who was often on the other side of the vote.

"No Council meeting was ever complete without a spell of storytelling from Uncle Bob,” said the former mayor, who shared the dais with Holbrook for 16 years.

"The whole town loved Bob," said former Mayor Bobby Shriver, who served two terms after Holbrook encouraged him to run for Council in 2004.

"Some folks disagreed with him, but every single person knew him to be a kind, decent man who always tried to do the right thing.”

"Bob had a big heart and a big personality," said former Mayor Pam O'Connor, who shares Holbrook's record 24 years on the Council. "He loved the city he grew up in."

Holbrook had a fondness for the past and was a staunch supporter of the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum. He amassed a large collection of vintage Santa Monica postcards, collected and restored radios from the 1920s and 1930s and drove a 1916 Model T Ford around town.

Born at Santa Monica’s now-defunct St. Catherine's Hospital in 1941 -- the year before Saint John's opened -- and educated in its local schools, Holbrook was one of the few native Santa Monicans in the past 30 years to serve on the Council.

After receiving a doctorate of pharmacy degree from USC, he worked for 20 years in the Thrifty and Sav-On drugstore chains before landing a job as the director of pharmacy and assistant professor of clinical pharmacy at USC.

He started his political career when he ran and won a seat on the School Board in 1983, serving two terms, including one as Board president.

In 1990, Holbrook won a seat on the City Council, making him the first person to serve on both elected bodies. He remained a champion of education -- approving funding for the School District and helping embark on joint partnerships.

A popular politician, Holbrook never sought higher office outside of Santa Monica, despite some playful prodding from Bobby Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“My favorite Bob story was his fun reply to my mother," Shriver recalled. "She said, 'Bob, you’re so smart and experienced,. I think you should run for Senate or for Governor.

"Bob deadpanned, 'Well Eunice, if you adopt me and give me the money, I’ll do it.'"

In 2014, Holbrook announced he would not be seeking a seventh term on the Council. He said that the campaign process was draining and required being on social media, which he disliked.

"I'm not into social media," he said. "I find that stuff eats up a lot of your time, time that I could use to spend on my hobbies and with family. I don't want to have to dig into that."

An avid USC football fan who often wore the team's cardinal and gold colors on the dais, he said he planned to continue traveling to their games, visiting remote parts of the globe and tinkering with his antiques.

His announcement caused many local political observers to agree that a political era had ended in Santa Monica.

At the November 25, 2014 City Council meeting, Holbrook teared up as he sat on the dais for the last time

“It is my grand adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Holbrook concluded. “I will miss you. I wish all of you the very best. Thank you.”

He is survived by his wife, Jean Ann; their children, Bobby Jr., Cynthia and Craig, and four grandchildren.

Below is The Lookout's tribute marking Holbrook's 35 years of public service.

"PART I -- A Tribute to Former Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook," February 26, 2018

"PART II -- More Testimonials to Former Mayor Bob Holbrook," February 27, 2018

"PART III -- Former City Council Colleagues Pay Tribute to Bob Holbrook, February 28, 2018

"Former Mayor Bob Holbrook's Journey from Political Neophyte to Elder Statesman," March 3, 2018

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