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City founder Byron Athan passes into history

Say goodbye to By, and add your comments below

Byron Athan, one of the original founders of the city of San Ramon from the early 1950s, died Nov. 25 at the age of 91.

Mr. Athan had a long and productive life in San Ramon as city attorney, councilman and city manager.

He was a director of the original Valley Community Services District, the predecessor of the Dublin San Ramon Services District. Back in the 1960s and '70s, the VCSD was the only governmental entity in Dublin and San Ramon, responsible for water and sewer as well as parks and fire protection.

Diane Schinnerer, who also served as an early director of DSRSD and the first mayor of San Ramon, recalled Mr. Athan as, "My hero. We may have disagreed but we never had a bad word between us."

Schinnerer was impressed not only with how he lived but also how he chose to die.

"That guy died the way he wanted to. He sat in a chair downstairs and would not go to a hospital to be hooked up to machines," she said.

Athan Down Park on Montevideo Road was named for Mr. Athan in 1970. At the time he quipped, "But I'm not dead." He lived 39 years with the park bearing his name, and now, at last, it will serve to memorialize him.

After the city was incorporated in 1983, Mr. Athan went on to serve San Ramon as a councilman, mayor, city attorney, city manager and, again, as city attorney.

Current City Manager Herb Moniz said, "By Athan was truly one of a kind. A true gentleman, tough as nails when he had to be. ... kind and understanding as a matter of course."

Planning Commissioner Donna Kerger described Mr. Athan as "a community hero in the true sense of the word. He always looked out for the residents of 'his' fair city .... How he loved San Ramon, and it showed by his commitment and dedication to it at every level."

Mr. Athan resisted retiring from public service for more than 60 years, but a recent bout with pneumonia drained his energy and he decided to accept the honor of being named "City Attorney Emeritus," at the Sept. 8 City Council Meeting. The whole meeting was devoted to honoring him and his many years of service to the community.

He served as a paratrooper in World War II, passed the California Bar in 1947, and married Mary, his wife of 60 years, in 1949. Mr. Athan also worked with the U.S. China Exchange Council, which exchanges business people between the United States and China.

When asked to comment on his years working for the city, Mr. Athan quoted Confucius and said, "Find a job you like and you'll never have to work a day in your life."


Posted by Beverly Lane, a resident of Danville
on Dec 3, 2009 at 7:18 am

By Athan was devoted to parks, the San Ramon Valley and San Ramon. He brought his all to every project in which he was involved. He was active wearing both his community and his lawyer hat in establishing park fees for new developments, beginning in the 1970s. He worked with the County and with homeowners' groups to initiate these fees so that new residents had parks near their homes. While he was embarrassed by and never liked having a park named for him (Athan Downs), he surely deserved that recognition. With his passing, an era passes. He was a friend, always.

Posted by p.albertson, a resident of Danville
on Dec 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

Mr. Athan was a true gentleman in every sense of the word and his kind heart and loving personality embraced all those who surrounded him. He will truely be missed by family, friends and co-workers. May we all be blessed in our life time to know at least one "Byron Athan".

Posted by Jeff Eorio, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm

By was a hero to the community and to me personally as well. Having the opportunity to work with By over 22 years was a priveledge and an honor.
Byron and my father served in Alaska together during WWII, from 1941-1943 and we shared many stories together, that personal connection was very special for me and for my father.
By will be missed and we will work on placing a special plaque at Athan Downs, memorializing what he did and what he stood for within the San Ramon community.

Posted by Dave Hudson, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 4, 2009 at 11:21 am

His legacy lives on through those of us he taught to serve the residents. Byron had so much faith in people to make the right decision given all the facts. He could define your parameters of governing so well in any council or commission meeting. I wonder how well he would have done in Sacramento. He did a great job as city attorney, a great job as city manager, and he showed us what former staff members could do as Mayor (1999). His performance rating as city attorney for 2008 was as high as any rating for any position in memory during my 3 terms on the council. He was quite the teacher and he will be missed.

Posted by Bob Patrino, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 4, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I agree with all the comments posted so far about By and the tremendous impact he has made on everyone who has ever worked or had the privilege to know him. Byron was first and foremost a gentleman who was kind and honest(in spite of being an attorney). Byron did not parse words, he did not spin the facts in order to present them the way we wanted to hear them. He told it like it was, always giving fair representation to the facts, as well as guiding us toward decisions that were ALWAYS legal, ethical and in the best interest of the citizens of San Ramon.

I miss Byron. There will always be a place in my heart for all the memories I have of working with him for the last 15+ years. The City staff will especially miss Byron, for the quiet leadership and mentoring that happened every single day. We have lost a great friend, and the citizens of San Ramon have lost a great public servant. Byron never forgot who he ultimately worked for, and we should always strive to live up to his high standards.

Posted by carol rowley councilmember, a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 5, 2009 at 11:01 am

I had the privilege of having By as a friend. We were involved in incorporation and on many city committees.The focus was always on what we could do for our community. He loved San Ramon and the fact that he and Mary raised their three great sons in our fair city. He definitely was a model family man, celebrating his monthly wedding anniverary date for over 60 years, enjoying his grandchildren's activities and entertaining his neighbors. By was a warm, caring man with very high principles. It was a true pleasure to work with By as San Ramon's city attorney. His decisions were fair and his memory for facts, truly amazing. He was loved by the staff and all who worked with him. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on forever!

Posted by J. Pedersen, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2009 at 10:01 am

My life was enriched by knowing By and I feel honored to have worked with him. His life was an example to all of us of dedication to community, friends and especially family. His humor and kindness will be missed but always remembered.

Posted by p. perry, a resident of Danville
on Dec 10, 2009 at 8:57 am

Byron was a friend and mentor for 20+ years. I am a better person for having known him. He was my running-training partner when he was 70 years old - talk about an inspiration! The man was a genuine gentlemen with a heart of gold for friends and family and this community that he loved so well. He may no longer physically be here but his spirit lives on in all the lives he touched.

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