Former Councilman Guillermo Ochoa died Monday afternoon at the age of 54.
Ochoa’s son found him at his home in Ceres. He died of natural causes.
Ceres’ first Latino councilman, Ochoa was appointed to the seat in 2005 and two years later was elected to a four-year term. He ran again in 2011 but was defeated by Mike Kline.
With his mother and sister, Ochoa co-owned Garcia’s Market in Empire. He was a member of the Latino Community Roundtable and previously served on the Hispanic Leadership Council.
“What he did for the community was to be a bridge between the Hispanic community and the city,” said friend and LCR member Marco Moreno. “He connected the city to the migrant camp like never before.”
He said Ochoa had planned to run for the council again in a few years. He worked to bring diversity to local politics by encouraging others, not just in the Latino community, but also the Sikh community in Ceres, to run for the City Council or apply for boards such as the Planning Commission.
“He was a true caballero, a Spanish gentleman,” said LCR President Maggie Mejia. “He was sincere, he was genuine, and he had the passion to serve. Education was very high on his radar and he was always wanting to make sure the students were on the right track.”
She said Ochoa was one of the most vocal advocates of naming Cesar Chavez Junior High School on East Gate Boulevard. Some residents argued that the school shouldn’t be named after the civil rights activist, but rather continue with the district’s tradition of naming schools after local notables.
“He had the patience to listen but was not afraid to talk,” Mejia said.
During his 2011 bid for re-election, Ochoa said he was most proud of his efforts to see through the development and completion of the Ceres Community Center.
He was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen in 1985.
Ochoa leaves behind his wife, Martha, and son and daughter, Christian and Kimberly.
Services have not been scheduled.