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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."

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