Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On February 4, 2012, Jerry McFetridge passed away in his sleep in his home in Clarksburg, CA. While our family is heartbroken over his sudden death, we are comforted by the fact that Dad lived life to the fullest. Jerry was one-of-a-kind and is loved immensely. He will be missed greatly and remembered for his intelligent mind, indisputable work ethic, hilarious antics, wry sense of humor, generous and caring spirit, kindness and devotion to everyone around him, and, most of all, his love of life. This blog will serve as a tribute page for those who wish to communicate in this way. We would love to hear your stories. Send your Jerry stories, memories, photos, etc. to for inclusion, or make comments under individual entries.

The memorial service for Jerry will be held on Friday, February 24th from 4-7pm at the Sterling Hotel, 1300 H Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Information for donations to preserve the Victory Trees in his honor will be posted soon.

Jerry McFetridge (1939-2012)

Edward 'Jerry'
Beloved father, grandfather and friend, passed away in his sleep on February 4, 2012. Jerry was born in San Diego, CA on May 27, 1939. With an adventuring spirit, Jerry rafted the rivers of the west, trekked the Annapurna in Nepal and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He was always planning a new project or trip and was set to bike across Vietnam at the end of this month. A state capitol staff member and consultant for more than forty years, he is credited with mentoring dozens of legislative staff members and shepherding significant legislation into law, including the California Occupational Safety and Health Act. After he retired, Jerry moved to Clarksburg and started a vineyard from scratch, where he farmed 22 acres of Chardonnay and Petite Syrah and built his dream house. He loved living in Clarksburg, sharing laughs and wine with his closest friends. Jerry was also a devoted grandfather and cherished spending time with his grandsons, taking them on long walks and trips to the park. He is survived by his brother Duncan McFetridge; sister Jo Weaver; his children, Duncan (Shawn), Milan, Britton III (Andrea), Margaux and Matthew; grandchildren, Jackson, Finnegan and Britton IV; and countless close friends. Jerry was one-of-a-kind and is loved immensely. He will be missed greatly and remembered for his intelligent mind, indisputable work ethic, hilarious antics, wry sense of humor, generous and caring spirit, kindness and devotion to everyone around him, and, most of all, his love of life. Services to be announced on In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to support the preservation of the Victory Trees planted along Freeport Boulevard to memorialize Sacramento's fallen solidiers in World War I. Donation information will be made available on the website.

Published in The Sacramento Bee on February 8, 2012

Jerry McFetridge, a Renaissance Man

Jerry McFetridge was the top staffer for tough old Assemblyman Jack Fenton, who chaired what was then called the Assembly Committee on Industrial Safety when I went to work as a reporter in the Capitol Bureau of the Sacramento Bee in May 1975. It only took me a couple of days to figure out that Jerry was equally tough (because he had to be to work for Fenton), but he also was one of the most personable and engaging guys I had ever met. Other reporters I knew quickly told me a story about Jerry that he enjoyed recounting in great detail over the next three decades.

In June 1971, a horrible methane gas explosion in a California Water Project tunnel in Sylmar had killed 17 workers. It was then the worst underground disaster in California history. Jerry led Fenton's staff in the investigation. On January 13, 1972, using questions Jerry had drafted, Fenton and his committee put Jack Hatton, chief of California's Industrial Safety Division, on the hot seat in a public hearing. The questions were so masterful and so deadly accurate that Hatton offered his resignation on the spot during the hearing -- the only time in living memory that a high-level state official has proferred an on-the-spot resignation during a public hearing. It was like the ending to a Perry Mason television episode where the guy who did it confesses on the witness stand. Gov. Ronald Reagan officially accepted Hatton's resignation two weeks later. It couldn't have happened without Jerry, who then drafted legislation that resulted in the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Cal-OSHA).

Even though Jerry wasn't a lawyer, he may have known as much about California labor law as anybody who had passed the bar -- maybe because he had drafted so much labor legislation. As a Bee reporter over the few years, I loved to go into Jerry's office. Jerry filed his important papers by the archaeological system, most of them in piles on the floor with the newest ones on top. Most of the time when you went into his office, you had to step over, through and around those piles. But his mind was very orderly and it was fun to shoot the bull with him because I never failed to learn something -- and it wasn't always about labor law, either. I would learn who was doing what to whom around the Capitol, who had a new girlfriend or boyfriend and why that might affect a certain bill that was coming before a certain committee. I learned who in the Capitol had been on a three-day drunk, or how Jerry was planning to raft the Colorado River or hike up Mt. Lassen or what he thought of Hemingway as a writer -- all good stuff for a reporter to know. We had an arrangement -- I would never quote him without getting his okay and he would never gossip about me coming into his office. It worked wonderfully well.

During the late 70s and early 80s, Jerry and I often found ourselves at the same watering holes near the Capitol, where we had many deep philosophical discussions that neither of us could remember the next day. And during all that, we had a lot of laughs and formed a bond that I will never forget.

It was in 1996 that Jerry proved to be one of the best friends I've ever had. I was recuperating from major surgery and because of a change in the leadership of the Assembly, where I had worked for more than seven years, I had to find another job. Jerry had also left employment in the Assembly and was the lobbyist and political director for the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. They needed someone to handle writing and press relations. Jerry used his gravelly-voiced powers of persuasion to get me the job -- exactly when I needed one. We worked together for nearly three years, with Jerry again teaching me all the quirks of labor law and lobbying, but always with a sense of humor. He used keep a sign in his office that said, "Politics is show business for ugly people."

It was a great working arrangement. Every time I had a question about some obscure labor issue, I'd saunter into Jerry's office and he would offer a full background explanation, complete with a funny story. That was about the time Jerry was planting his first chardonnay vineyard. I'll never forget walking through the rows of newly-planted grapes on his farm on the river near Clarksburg, dragging irrigation pipe to make sure every vine was watered. Later, before he was selling his grapes commercially, Jerry made his own wine -- "Everyday Chardonnay."

Even though we hadn't seen as much of each other as I'd like for the last few years, I will miss him terribly. But I can just see him now, walking through the Pearly Gates and in that voice that sounded like a sack of gravel dragged over a cobblestone walkway, saying to St. Peter, "I brought you a little something to wet your whistle."

Jim Lewis

Yard Crashers

Late last summer, Britton III and I were ambushed at Lowes by the HGTV/DIY Channel show, Yard Crashers.  On October 18th-19th, 2011, our Curtis Park home was the site of a huge crew of film production, contractors, landscapers, designers, friends, and family.  Jerry worked tirelessly, side-by-side guys that were in their 20s.   His enthusiasm, hard work, and disregard for injuries (that would stop these young guys in their tracks) spread quickly among the crews.  Several guys pulled me aside to jokingly say, "your father-in-law is an animal, he's making me look bad!"  The experience was amazing.  I'm so happy Jerry was able to share it with us and leave his mark on our back yard.  Our episode of Yard Crashers airs on April 16th, 2012 on HGTV/DIY Channel.

-Andrea McFetridge


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"He was at the social heart of the Capitol, and a canny politician. But mostly, he was a grand human being."

Longtime Capitol staff member Jerry McFetridge dies suddenly
Sacramento Bee - Capitol Alert, 2/6/12

Word circulated early today at the Capitol that longtime staff member and consultant Britton "Jerry" McFetridge died suddenly over the weekend at his home in Clarksburg.
He was 72.

The Assembly is expected to adjourn in his honor today. He served under several Democratic members of the Legislature, including current state Treasurer Bill Lockyer. He is credited with mentoring dozens of Democratic staff members and shepherding significant legislation through the process over the years, including the state's prevailing wage law and the California Occupational Safety and Health Act.

After leaving the Legislature, he became legislative and political director for the State Building and Construction Trades Council. Most recently, he retired to a grape-growing operation in Clarksburg.

Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt, a close personal friend said McFetridge was "the consummate legislative consultant...He had great passion for the issues he believed in, but also a strict adherence to objectivity in his work. He was at the social heart of the Capitol, and a canny politician. But mostly, he was a grand human being."

He is survived by five children, including Duncan McFetridge, a lobbyist at the Capitol. Services are pending.

"What we ought to do is get off our duffs, take the $10,000, and replace the trees ourselves."

Future of Freeport's historic Victory Trees uncertain in face of disease, development

Sacramento Bee, by Tony Bizjak, 2/21/12

In tiny Freeport, folks are aiming harsh words at the city of Sacramento, including this one: unpatriotic.

They say their northern neighbor is reneging on its promise to care for a historic avenue of ancient elms on Freeport Boulevard known as the Victory Trees. The once-elegant elm canopy has thinned at a rapid pace in the past decade.

Local legend says the trees were planted in the 1920s to honor the 131 Sacramento County soldiers who died in World War I. News clippings from that era indicate soldiers may have brought the seeds home from European battlefields.

Freeport Boulevard, at the time, was designated a part of the nation's Victory Highway, a cross-country combination of new and existing roads that served as both war memorial and public improvement project.

Jerry McFetridge lives in Clarksburg, just across the Sacramento River from Freeport. He gets riled up whenever he drives the section of Freeport Boulevard south of Meadowview Road, where elms once formed a leafy tunnel for drivers entering Freeport, a town with just a few dozen residents.

"It's a disgrace," he said, "not only because they are a living memorial to fallen servicemen, but they also made for one of the nicest sections of road in the whole region."

The city took control of this part of state Highway 160 in 2001. In doing so, it signed a covenant with the state agreeing to preserve the Victory Trees.

"The covenant shall be a binding servitude upon the Victory Trees and shall be deemed to run with the land," states the hand-over document from the Department of Transportation to the city.

Today, just a few elms stand sentinel between Sacramento and Freeport. Just south of Freeport, though, soldierly rows of trees still flank the river highway near Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course for a few hundred yards, offering a glimpse of what once was.

City officials acknowledge that they have been cutting down the trees. But they are not the culprits, they say. City urban forest services manager Joe Benassini said the city's hand was forced by Dutch elm disease, a scourge that began sweeping through many of the region's elms in 1990.

Benassini and others looked into replacing the elms a few years ago but decided that underground utilities, irrigation, levee requirements and property issues were too complicated.

"There simply wasn't room," he said.

At the urging of Freeport activist Carol Rakela and others, the city planted trees in an adjacent park.

Rakela and others in Freeport, however, say they aren't buying the city's contention that new Victory Trees can't be planted. Some say they suspect the city just doesn't want roadside trees to get in the way of upcoming urban growth.

A narrow majority of Freeport residents – determined to preserve their rural identity – voted 24-20 several years ago to reject annexation overtures from the city. But it appears that they're about to be swallowed up by development anyway.

The city of Sacramento and a developer, M&H Realty Partners, plan to build an interchange on Interstate 5 next to Freeport starting later this year. The project will include a four-lane road between the freeway and Freeport Boulevard on the town's north flank.

This interchange will accommodate a planned 800- acre retail and housing project called Delta Shores. Suburban homes will shoulder up to Freeport backyards, erasing the last fragments of open land separating Freeport from Sacramento. Some in Freeport fought unsuccessfully for a buffer.

"It's a done deal," said Tracy Oto, who runs an auto repair shop in Freeport. "Not much we can do about it."

He is displeased, however, that one small concession has yet to be fulfilled. The Delta Shores developer agreed in 2010 to donate $10,000 to restore lost Victory Trees or replant trees in an alternate spot chosen by the Freeport Preservation Coalition.

The Sacramento Tree Foundation was asked to handle the task but backed away after it talked with city officials. The money remains unspent.

While the Victory Trees' demise is becoming well chronicled, their beginning remains obscure. A recent report from Caltrans says the trees were planted "at the height of the Sacramento City Beautification movement of the 1920s," but it does not say by whom.

The planter could have been the city, veterans groups or an influential women's association. Newspaper clippings indicate veterans at that time were distributing seeds, said to be from Europe's battlefields, for planting throughout the city.

In 1930, veterans and the city planted a Memorial Grove in Land Park. Four years earlier, the Women's Council of Sacramento erected a war monument facing Freeport Boulevard in Land Park.

Standing this week next to one of the remaining Victory elms, McFetridge said the city needs to make good. He pointed to the nearby city water tower, proclaiming Sacramento to be "The City of Trees." Then he had another thought.

"What we ought to do is get off our duffs," he said, "take the $10,000, and replace the trees ourselves."

Capitol Weekly Obituary

Obit: Jerry McFetridge, long-term Capitol staff and labor expert

Capitol Weekly, 2/6/12

Jerry McFetridge, a veteran Capitol staffer and labor expert who left his mark on major Democratic legislation, died at his home over the weekend in Clarksburg. He was 72.

McFetridge, a former ranking official at the Building and Construction Trades Council, had tended a successful, 22-acre vineyard in Clarksburg, a town on the edge of the Delta south of Sacramento where he retired.

His wines included Chardonnay, which he bottled himself called “Everyday Chardonnay” – a favorite among Clarksburg residents.

Friends also said he also had an unusual request: He hoped to have his ashes shot out of a cannon over his vineyard.

McFetridge, a mountain bike and hiking enthusiast, had traveled to several countries to pursue trails. He reportedly planned a bicycle trip in Vietnam at the end of the month.

An ardent environmentalist, he also led efforts to restore the World War I-era “Victory Trees” at Freeport south of Sacramento.

McFetridge is survived by his five children: Duncan, a lobbyist; Milan, Britton, Matthew and Margaux; and three grand children -- Jack, Finnegan and Britton.

Sayulita 2010