It’s difficult to adequately say goodbye to those who helped shape what we’ve become – people who set examples, worked for the public good and stood up when needed.
Sadly, that’s what we must do; say farewell to two important figures in our recent past – retired Stanislaus County Supervisor Nick Blom, who died Thursday of a stroke, and retired Modesto City Councilmember Will O’Bryant, who died Oct. 1.
Blom was a tower of integrity before, during and after his 20 years of service as a supervisor. You couldn’t push him around, and most learned not to try.
Long before residents of Stanislaus County chose him to be their supervisor, he chose the county as his new home. As Alejandra Navarro reported when he retired in 2003, Blom arrived in America from the Netherlands almost broke and not knowing the language.
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“I knew ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but I didn’t know when to use them,” he said. He picked up English by going to Modesto Junior College to study agriculture, welding and electronics.
Always civic minded, Blom soon became active in politics. He volunteered for school boards, was active in his church and later instrumental in helping develop an air district to fight the air pollution that contributes to childhood asthma and other diseases.
As supervisor for 20 years, his wry sense of humor was as famous as his adherence to the basic principles. He retired in 2002 at age 64, saying 20 years was enough. But he remained deeply attuned to issues such as the fight over water, often calling The Bee’s editorial writers to note his agreement with a position ... or not.
Blom leaves a legacy of service which is being carried forward by his son, also Nick, now a member of the Modesto Irrigation District board of directors.
O’Bryant served eight years on the Modesto City Council, ending when the city was forced to switch to district elections. Like Blom, the former Alameda County deputy was known for a wry, if not ironic, sense of humor.
“He was funny and he was smart and he was a prankster,” said Janice Keating, whose two terms on the council coincided with O’Bryant’s. “He was a hard worker and he was my best friend on the council.”
O’Bryant took exception to any mistreatment of “the little guy.” When Mayor Jim Ridenour decided to give his state of the city speech to a group that charged for their breakfast meetings, he protested: “Maybe they should start charging 40 bucks to go to council meetings.”
Though it cost him his seat on the council, he favored district elections: “I can say there have been unrepresented groups of people in this city, and hopefully this will get (potential candidates) off their duff and they’ll run now.”
When an unscrupulous property management company bought several area trailer parks, doubling the rent, he was outraged – championing a rent control measure that eventually gained wide support.
“The citizens of the city, the county and the state are not going to let local government put 80-year-old people out on the street,” O’Bryant said. “This is a desperate situation. These people are going to be homeless – mothers, grandmothers. This just can’t be allowed to happen.”
Many people believe that public servants such as these are few and far between. That’s not true. Some serving now are just as dedicated, just as honest and just as ferocious in defending the public and its right to know. Others, perhaps, could use some good role models; they won’t find any better than Nick Blom and Will O’Bryant.