FAIRFIELD — “Mr. Fairfield” is not a title given out in a local beauty pageant and in fact, it isn’t an official title at all. A personalized calendar given to near-lifelong Fairfield resident Gary Falati dubbed him as such after listing his numerous accomplishments.
Falati was on the Fairfield City Council for 19 years (1974 to 1993), 16 of them as mayor. As mayor, he was instrumental in bringing the mall to Fairfield, which many point to as the time when Fairfield was “put on the map.” Falati also served two terms on the Fairfield-Suisun school board.
He has been a local businessman for 30 years working as a State Farm insurance agent, and in the past was a teacher, football coach and principal at his alma mater, Armijo High School.
Falati, who will turn 74 this month, grew up in a very different Fairfield than the one he later served politically.
“I was president of the Future Farmers of America at Armijo my senior year of 1958,” Falati said. “I had 100 head of breeding sheep and that’s how I paid my way through college. I sold registered Suffolk blackface ewes and rams and they went for like $100 a head. That was a lot of money.”
Falati comes from families with deep roots in Fairfield: the Lambrechts, Bells and Chadbournes. After being born in Vallejo, his family moved to Fairfield when he was 2.
From 1942 to 1945, Falati’s family lived on a ranch where CVS Pharmacy on Travis Boulevard is now located. Some of his various uncles’ homes are still standing, including the house that is now Archway Recovery Services on the corner of Travis Boulevard and Union Avenue, as well as the one that is now Lam’s Acupuncture on Travis Boulevard.
In 1951, Falati, then a sixth-grader at Fairfield Elementary School, attended the Fairfield City Council meeting where the donation by his uncle, Lee Bell, of 10 acres for the development of a city park was approved – narrowly.
“It was a split vote, 3-2. Two council members felt it was too far out in the country,” Falati said.
During the summers of Falati’s youth, most kids had jobs cutting fruit in Suisun Valley. In sixth- through eighth-grade, Falati had a shoe-shine stand in Allan Witt’s downtown barbershop.
As a teen in the 1950s for fun, it was all about cruising.
“You would wash your car all day then drive by Manuel Campos’ Food Fair and look at your reflection in the big glass window and see your car with the spinner rims,” Falati said.
Former Fairfield City Manager B. Gale Wilson hired Falati as recreation department supervisor and he worked as a lifeguard at the Fairfield plunge and did tours at Rockville Hills Park among other duties from 1968 to 1974.
“In 1974, my friend since I was a child, Tommy Hannigan, suggested I run for City Council and take his seat because he was running for the board of supervisors,” Falati said. “We knocked on 8,600 doors and children of potential voters knew me from the plunge and from playgrounds. The kids helped me to get elected because they vouched for me to their parents.”
In 1976, when he was the vice mayor, Falati had an opportunity, through a foreign exchange program at Chico State, to go behind the Iron Curtain.
“We spent three weeks in the Soviet Union studying comparative economic systems. We stayed at Red Square in a hotel with 5,000 rooms and you didn’t get to keep your keys. You checked them in with the person at the end of the hall,” Falati said. “We figured everything was monitored. You didn’t travel from city to city unless you had permission. What a life experience.”
On the City Council, Falati sought counsel from his elders and took lessons to heart. Once he came to a council meeting directly from coaching football at Armijo and was wearing shorts. Mayor Manuel Campos gave him a dressing down and he never made that mistake again.
These days, candidates seeking local political offices often seek Falati for his counsel.
“I give people a read and tell them what I think is in their best interest to do. I don’t just tell them what they want to hear,” Falati said. “I had a guy ask me what his chances were if he entered a race and I told him he had two. He said, ‘I know: slim and none.’ I told him no, none and none. He said, ‘Do you have to be so damned honest?’ ”
Besides the park named for his uncle Lee Bell, the trust of his cousin Irving Lambrecht’s estate donated 80 acres to the city of Suisun City to create the Irving H. Lambrecht Sports Complex on Scandia Road. In 2010, Falati himself became the third member of his family to be honored with a park. The 6.8-acre, $1.1 million Gary Falati Neighborhood Park on Falati Lane in the Gold Ridge neighborhood was dedicated that year on Sept. 11.
The title of Mr. Fairfield, unofficial as it is, makes Falati a bit uneasy. He points to so many who went before him, including Arnie Digerud, Loyal Hanson, Frank Cruz, Allan Witt, Tom Hannigan and others.
“You grow up in a community and the community matures and hopefully you mature a little bit as a person with it,” Falati said. “I know my roots here and they are strong.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].