Editor's note: A version of this first-person account was originally shared with some friends and acquaintances. At the request of Mayor Steve Aspel and others, I am reposting it here.
When I first saw John Parsons, I found him somewhat intimidating. He was a big man, and I'm a decidedly small woman. I actually don't remember if we were ever properly introduced, but he knew who I was, and I knew him, too.
We were professional acquaintances who respected each other.
During the first city council meeting of August, we chatted about the previous week's waterfront-focused meeting. I'd been unable to attend due to an illness, so Parsons and some other people who went to that meeting filled me in on some of the more colorful aspects. That meeting was so well-attended that apparently Parsons, who always arrived at council meetings early, was unable to find a seat.
At the next council meeting, he wasn't there. I kept looking back to see if he was, but his spot was occupied by someone attending just for the public hearing about the proposed car wash. (I suspected he didn't attend the meeting because it was only about the car wash, and being a member of the planning commission, he had already heard all the arguments and didn't feel like staying until midnight.)
On Aug. 20, we exchanged hellos before the meeting; those are the last words I ever spoke to him. I stayed in the meeting for most of it, but ended up outside the chambers chatting with the officer on duty in the lobby. When council business was done and the meeting was adjourned, I went back to the chambers to retrieve my backpack. I saw Parsons as he was getting out of his chair, and he looked ... odd. Angry, almost.
I came out of the chambers just as the officer and another man were helping him into a chair in the lobby. The officer had already called dispatch on his radio and requested paramedics; the other man was asking Parsons if he knew what his name was, who the president of the U.S. was, etc. I watched the paramedics work on him and carry him on a stretcher to the ambulance. He was exhibiting the classic signs of a stroke, but I tried not to think about it.
I was the only reporter at the meeting, but I neither picked up my phone to take a photo nor took notes. I knew this could be a story because Parsons is a very public figure in the area, but there were privacy issues to weigh first, and I didn't want to make the wrong decision.
I take no pride in being the first reporter to post a story about his illness. I only did it after a long conversation with my editor, during which we decided to post a short article with only minimal details. The story made almost no mention of his symptoms (other than saying he was "uncharacteristically disoriented" so people wouldn't think he was vomiting or had fainted); it did not disclose which hospital he was sent to; and it did not speculate on his condition.
All night Tuesday, I was thinking, maybe whatever was afflicting him was curable—it was certainly caught quickly—and he would be back to normal in almost no time at all. After I heard how he was Wednesday, I was still praying for the best possible outcome.
He died Aug. 22, about 36 hours after he was first hospitalized.
I'm the first to admit that his death has hit me hard. I don't know if it's because I was there when Parsons got sick, or if it's because he's someone I respected, or if it's because he was always around—a fixture at any city or business meeting. It's probably a combination of all three.
He always seemed like a quiet supporter of Patch—he seemed to understand the difference between the news I produced and the comments users left on the stories. He knew I did my best to be fair and accurate with my coverage, even if it meant live-blogging a meeting so people could tell exactly what was going on.
When I first started attending meetings for the North Redondo Beach Business Association, he would jocularly announce that the press was in the room.
He was on the short list of names I gave to columnist Katharine Blossom Lowrie for the "Greatest Person" series, and it wasn't until she turned in the article that I realized just what a force in local government and affairs he was. He was a Rotarian; a planning commissioner; a city councilman; a driving force behind the retention of the Air Force base in El Segundo; a member of the workplace investment board; a loving husband and father; an active participant in all sorts of community organizations and activities; and much, much more.
He helped me on election night in both March and May. In March, he read out loud the numbers for each candidate in each precinct off the printed paper as I typed them into my spreadsheet that calculated vote totals and percentages. In May, he called me to let me know that my formula for calculating the percentages was a bit off.
Though he attended almost every city council meeting, he was not a typical gadfly—a member of the public who attends meetings and speaks just to hear his own voice. He read the agenda—I suspect that he asked the city clerk's office to prepare him a copy of the giant packet that contains all the staff reports—and he knew what he wanted to speak about. His comments were thought out, polite and relevant.
I like to think he was the antithesis of a gadfly. He didn't attend and speak to annoy others or make himself seem important; rather, his comments were germane to the discussion, and he always seemed to have time to speak with others before and after the meetings.
I can't believe I went to his funeral today.
I can't believe he won't be there next Tuesday at council, sitting in his seat near the back. I'm tempted to put a sign on it to reserve the seat for his memory.
I can't believe I'll never again get the opportunity to chat with him, say hello or even just see him.
John Parsons, you will be dearly missed by family, friends, Redondo Beach and other South Bay residents, and even reporters. You were a big man with an even bigger heart.