Jerry Holloway didn't plan on getting emotional. Sure, he had an idea that when he started thanking wife Ellen and daughter Cortney for putting up with all the extra hours he put into running Rancho Santa Margarita as a city councilman for 10 years that he would get misty eyed, but there was another moment that caught him off guard.
In front of a large audience gathered at City Hall on Wednesday, after praise had been heaped on Holloway from those who have known and worked with him for a couple of years or a few decades, Holloway began talking about the city's emergency personnel.
A retired policeman for Costa Mesa who brought a commitment to emergency services in Rancho Santa Margarita, the moment finally got the best of him.
"Chief (Brian) Schmutz right now is running one of the finest organizations in all of the United States. The men and women who serve the fire authority and sheriff's department, at the end of the day they will risk their lives for you and give their lives for you," Holloway said as his tear ducts began to let go and he changed course. "Let's hear it for those guys."
But it was a night for hearing about Holloway, who defeated council appointee Christy Riley head-to-head in 2002, then won the popular vote in two more elections. He will be succeeded on the council by Brad McGirr, who was one of 23 people who appeared before the council to put Holloway's civic career into perspective.
McGirr told about a candidate forum last month and a question that he did not receive, but wished he had. The question was "Who on the council do you most identify with?"
"I really would have said Jerry Holloway. Often times these votes are 4-1, and many times that 1 was Jerry Holloway," McGirr said, turning toward Holloway. "I think you take pride in that and you should take pride in that. From my vantage point, Jerry was never the 1 for some selfish reason; he was always perfectly willing, ready, able and brave enough to speak his mind on an issue based on being in the weeds, knowing the facts and giving an opinion knowing that slings and arrows were headed his way. But he always gave the impression of one who didn't care about slings and arrows because the decisions he was making was for all of you."
McGirr also said he enjoyed calling Holloway the "Dean of Discipline" based on his role at Santa Margarita Catholic High, "because I'm jealous of the title ... but his title really should be the 'Dean of Dignity.' "
There were 18 presentations total, including the entire Rancho Santa Margarita Historical Society, which came to be under Holloway's watch. He was also central to the city recognizing local students at council meetings, a popular 5K, and an avid supporter of the City's adoption of the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines Regiment from Camp Pendleton.
Former councilmen Gary Thompson and Jim Thor praised Holloway, Thompson for his preparedness and lack of a political agenda, and Thor for making a fire truck a standard election gimmick.
Keith Richter, fire chief for the Orange County Fire Authority, said that "in addition to his decade of service, he also had a lifetime in public safety."
Steve Hayman, who served several years as the city manager, credited Holloway for bringing him to RSM. They had known each other as far back as 1979 when both were working for Costa Mesa.
"His questions were always appropriate, and his interest was never more, never less, than ensuring the staff’s best effort was being put forward," said Hayman, who turned over the reins of the city in July to Jennifer Cervantez. "Most importantly, as some speakers have already mentioned, Jerry Holloway represented the most important quality of a city council member and that is that his heart, soul and purpose was to represent the best interests of the city of Rancho Santa Margarita and its residents. I will never forget him for that, and will always appreciate him for that."
Councilwoman Carol Gamble shared that Holloway was one of only "a handful of men who has ever changed my mind" about an issue.
"I learned a perspective from you that I had never thought of," she said. "You helped me be better."
Councilman Steve Baric, vice chair of the California Republican Party, also praised Holloway.
"I just wanted to shake your hand," Baric said. "I felt every time you sat next to me you gave everyone here and the residents a fair shake. Sometimes we voted the same on issues, sometimes we voted on different sides, and I always felt you were very honest, open and fair. You're the essence of a local elected official."
Mayor Tony Beall told Holloway "you leave with a tremendous record of accomplishments; the residents of this city owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude."
At the end of the ceremony, Holloway thanked city staff and elected officials, both current and past. He confirmed for McGirr's benefit that it does feel good to be the one vote against four colleagues "because it means the process is working. The process of city government in this city is evident ... You can see how nice a city this is, so the system is working and continues to work."
A couple of hours later, after agreeing to refinance city bonds and establish new speed limits, Holloway discussed the night and some of the revelations he had while standing before the audience listening to people praise his contribution.
"This was perfect," he said, his key to the city resting above his nameplate on the dais next to a crystal bell from The Bell Tower Foundation. "Everything that goes on here is a team effort. There are very few individual efforts. I really feel good about being part of this team.
"From the 'famous 50' community members who give input, to city staff to council members, it came to me with most of those people here tonight—I was part of a championship team."