Tom Fuentes: Fighter for Conservatism

Tom Fuentes, longtime conservative activist and member of the board of directors of Eagle Publishing, Inc., died Friday at the age of 63 after a valiant battle with cancer. The whole Eagle Publishing family extends its thoughts and prayers to the entire Fuentes family.

For decades, when Republican Presidents of the United States went to California’s Orange County to give a speech so as to further a policy or to ask for support or to be honored at a banquet, naturally it was common for those attending the event to want to sit close to the president.  But what has been even more common at those events was that presidents often requested that the seat next to them be reserved for Tom Fuentes.  And no one who knew Tom could blame them.  It was not only that they knew how well respected Tom was in the county, they respected him for his unique, golden character that made presidents comfortable to be in his presence.

And in the absence of presidents or former presidents or prospective presidents, Tom was easily the draw by himself.  If it was a morning conference table for just a dozen, Tom would be sitting at the head of the table.  If it was an evening hotel ballroom for hundreds of party faithful, Tom would be standing at the podium.  If it was an all-day outdoor rally for thousands of people of all political parties to celebrate the 4th of July or Flag Day or Patriot’s Day, Tom would be officiating.  There was a marvelous aura when Tom was there; an aura of both importance and ease in his stature.

But all of that public presence was only a supplement to what made him unique:  When any friend was with him, it was always fun.  He had a sense of humor that was beyond competition.  It wasn’t simply that people learned from being with Tom.  They learned and laughed.  And he could talk about any subject in the world.  I often heard him talk about places around the globe, about travels that one of us had just taken or was preparing to take.  And there would be discussions about music, about think tanks, about women, about presidential libraries, about economics, foreign policy, space exploration, education in a host of schools, and, more recently, discussions about the Tea Party movement that he praised, the Arab Spring of which he was suspicious, the deficit, the debt and presidential aspirants.

He was interested in everything—except  new movies.  Instead, it was always about his knowledge and interest in old movies.  And there was a particular movie that came up at least once a year in our conversations because it was replayed on television every Christmas season.  The movie, not surprisingly, was It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1946 Frank Capra film about a fictitious character named George Bailey who lived in the fictitious city of Bedford Falls.  Bailey was very distraught and an angel named Clarence came along and showed George Bailey what Bedford Falls would have been like if George Bailey had never been born—had never lived.  And George Bailey was at last exposed to how important he was in the lives of others.

I never asked Tom, but I wish now that I had asked him, “Tom, what if you hadn’t been born?”  I can ask it now and I know the answer.  If Tom had never lived, most people in the country would not have heard of Orange County.  Most Americans can’t name many counties.  They can name states and major cities, but not many counties, maybe not even their own.  But one county is well known all over the nation and even in many other parts of the world: Orange County, California.  And Tom was the man who brought about that familiarity starting years ago, by making it the most politically important, best-known Republican county in the nation.  More than any other person, Tom put Orange County on the map.  In a state known for its liberal political philosophy, Tom created a unique conservative haven.  And in the doing of it, even to those who did not want it to be significant, even to those who relished liberalism, they knew and admitted that Tom made a respected figure out of California conservatism.  If Tom had never been born, it is more than likely that Orange County would never have made such a political mark and therefore would not have come to such prominence throughout the country—even throughout much of the world.

The foreign affects Tom had personally are still not known by many people here at home.  He was so influential in the Cold War politics of Nicaragua that Tom was invited by the incoming 1990 Nicaraguan government to be a guest at the inauguration of the new President, Violeta Chamorro; a conservative who ran against the Communist Sandinista opposition..  The new government knew Tom as a friend of liberty and he was the toast of her winning coalition, called the National Opposition Union and known throughout Nicaragua as UNO. Even this year there were still messages sent to Tom from members of that 1990 coalition.

Back at home, if Tom hadn’t been born, there are so many candidates for office who might never have been candidates without his prodding; so many winners who would never have won, and, beyond that, so many who are not yet candidates or elected winners but are students who would never have received the guidance that they have received from him.  There are teachers who do not live in Orange County who would often ask Tom to visit with some particularly bright and promising student.  Tom would always say “yes.”  And the student would come to Orange County, nervous to meet Tom Fuentes, then would come home from Orange County, raving about him, packed with notes and loaded with knowledge.  And they were inspired to be involved in the political life of the nation.  Tom changed any number of young lives for the better and many of those former and current students are putting what he taught into practice, as they travel the road to leadership.

Whether Tom knew it or not, when we used to discuss It’s a Wonderful Life, Tom Fuentes had his own Bedford Falls that he loved: Orange County and the United States were his Bedford Falls.

I mentioned, we would frequently talk to each other about trips we took and trips ahead.  I am not a theologian and so all I can do now is say what I believe:  I believe that Tom is on a great trip – a magnificent journey, and when his destination has been reached, if God needs someone to officiate in one of His conference rooms or ballrooms or rallies, I’m of the belief that He will call on Tom.

Throughout his time on earth Tom Fuentes was always devoted to God.

And he still is.

Tom Fuentes, a Conservative Champion, dies at 63

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.

To Tom Fuentes, A Simple Man — a tribute from Kathy Tavoularis, who served as the executive director for the California Republican Party from 1993-2005 and worked directly for Fuentes.

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