To me, Tom was generous and infuriating, kind and stubborn, funny and stoic, smart and sometimes a darn challenge to be around.
I worked for Tom for 10 1⁄2 years, starting directly from college and serving as Tom’s last Executive Director (he only had 3). Yes, I did survive it – in fact I’m a better person for it.
It’s a gift, I think, to be simple. If that means to hold simple, strong and decent values, Tom had that gift. You can see it in the way he ran our county party for 20 years.
He knew everyone, and everyone knew him – and not just those who were in the public eye or held an elected office. He knew those who didn’t have a dollar to give the party but had two strong legs to walk a precinct or could sit at a phone bank for a couple of hours after a long day at the office. He knew them by their first name and they called him Tom. Not Chairman Fuentes, not Mr. Fuentes – just Tom. Quality of character was what was important to Tom. Honesty, courage and humility – these were his yardsticks. That was simple.
Tom, of course, never hid his opinions. Even if the tide was against him (which wasn’t often), he was forceful and clear and unflinching. You always knew where Tom stood and so did those who were involved in the political arena. All knew they could always count on Tom for the truth, whether it was popular or unpopular. And if he believed in something that others didn’t, he wouldn’t rein himself in and follow the herd. He would step forward and be clear.
Tom always kept his personal tastes to himself as to make sure the chairmanship was unbiased. So I was surprised in 2003 during the Gray Davis Recall that Tom did not hide his distaste for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was particularly difficult for me to manage as it was clear Schwarzenegger was the favorite to replace Davis – and most of the county party volunteers and elected officials had endorsed Schwarzenegger.
Tom would not bend. I tried to keep Tom’s feelings subdued so as to avoid harming the relationship between the potential Schwarzenegger administration and the county party chairman. Tom, however, felt strongly that Schwarzenegger was not the right man for the job and he felt this way through Schwarzenegger’s 7 years in Sacramento. It was a trying time – but looking back now I greatly admire his tenacity and sticking to his gut feelings. It was, and is, a great lesson in leadership.
He was always fair – He was always strong – Both wonderful qualities – in fact I think extraordinary qualities that add up to being very simple qualities – but yet can be seen more than anything else, as very American.
President Richard Nixon once said there were two kinds of men – “those who want to do big things and those who want to rise to be big.” Tom wanted to do big things for the County Party – and he did:
–To recognize volunteer efforts for the party, he established such awards as the annual Republican Party of Orange County Lee Atwater Award, the Volunteer of the Month and the Volunteer of the Year Awards, the Legislator of the Year Award, the Local Elected Official of the Year Award, the Lifetime of Service Award and the Chairman’s Award.
–As the principal fund raiser for the county party, he achieved a financially solvent treasury each year of his chairmanship.
–Working closely with the California Republican Party, the county party met all state party goals for voter registration and election day results during his tenure.
Tom has so affected my life that I often stop throughout my day, in the middle of a project, and think, “What would Tom do? How would Tom make this simple?” I dare say I appreciate his leadership more today than I did when I worked for him.
I salute Tom and I thank him for all that he taught me and for showing me simple is good.
I give a hearty toast to Tom, “a simple man who accomplished great things.”
Orange County is better for having Tom Fuentes in it!
Thomas A. Fuentes Remembered As a Patriot, Friend, Mentor to Youth — Thomas L. Phillips remembers a leader and a dear friend, whose “insight and sage political advice were invaluable” to the organizations and individuals he counseled.
Tom Fuentes: Fighter for Conservatism — Bruce Herschensohn looks back on a friend who was interested in everything and recalls, “it wasn’t simply that people learned from being with Tom. They learned and laughed.“
Thomas A. Fuentes ‘In His Own Words’ — He encouraged an audience in September to “foster the noble and wholesome ideals of our conservative cause. Be not afraid, my friends.”
Tom Fuentes: A Life in Pictures