Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 4.53.38 PMWhen I was growing up, parents wanted their children to be President of the United States or a lawyer.  My parents urged me to become a lawyer. Today, parents don’t want their children to be either.

However, if parents had had an opportunity to know John Van de Kamp, lawyer and politician, many would urge their sons and daughters to follow in his footsteps.

John Van de Kamp’s life was honored in a memorial service last week in Pasadena.  Hundreds of people remembered how he had affected them.  

My big regret was not telling John how much I admired him before he died.  His ethics, his hard work, and his decency will long be remembered by all of us.

I first met John in 1976 when he was the District Attorney for Los Angeles and I was general counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission. I remember him for his earnestness, intelligence and probing questions about why he should take over a case we were developing.

My next official contact with John occurred when he was California’s Attorney General and I was at the Center for Governmental Studies.  He and his staff person, Fred Woocher, were working on a far-reaching campaign finance ballot initiative, which became part of three initiatives he sponsored on the 1990 statewide ballot, while he was unsuccessfully running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Several years later, he asked me to work with him on a special commission established by the Pasadena City Council to reform its innovative campaign finance ordinance.  John was chair of the commission tasked with revising a ballot initiative adopted by the city voters, which the council felt was too onerous.

After holding several hearings, John’s commission, much to the displeasure of many members of the city council, voted to strengthen the ordinance and close loopholes.  The city council, somewhat reluctantly, voted to approve these tougher amendments.

From that experience, I learned that John had the ability to bring a diverse group of people together to work on a project that made laws better even when officials were not sure they wanted to improve them.

For the past six years, I worked with John in his capacity as Ethics Advisor to the City of Vernon.  Vernon, a small industrial city in Los Angeles County, had been under attack by the media and the legislature, which tried to disband it as a city.

John was hired by the city to make recommendations on how to improve its structure and reputation.  He made a series of suggestions, almost all of which were adopted by the Vernon City Council.  Through his efforts and others, the city fought off unincorporation and today is financially stable and has a much better image throughout the state.

At last week’s memorial service, John Van de Kamp’s life was summed up in two words: “honor” and “integrity.”  That is what we need for ourselves and others, whether we be politicians, lawyers or citizens.