|The SPPOAC Legislative Team with Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy: (l to r)
Mike Lynch, Vic Trevisanut, McCarthy, Lisa Beutler, and Mario Rodriguez
I usually remember most things—especially meeting iconic people—but I cannot remember meeting Vic Trevisanut. That is why it is ironic that he takes residence inside my important memories of the 1980’s, when I was a young, idealistic girl who wanted to change the world. Vic was a State Park Ranger and union organizer—a personal friend and colleague of my roommate, Lisa Beutler. They had the same birthday, and worked together to organize SPPOAC (State Park Peace Officer’s Association of California). Vic and Lisa also had a close friend whose name was Mario, who I would later work for, fall in love with, and marry. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In 1982, Lisa B. and I worked for the Lieutenant Governor, Leo McCarthy. Lisa was a consultant with her finger on the pulse of the Law Enforcement community and women’s groups—making her invaluable to the office. I was an accounts payable clerk, thanks to Lisa, who recommended me for the job. It was my first time in the big city of Sacramento—I came from the small town of Tracy—and most of the time I went to work bubbling over with enthusiasm and gratitude. Because Lisa and I shared a house, many times I got to hang out with her legislative/law enforcement friends simply because I was around. It was a wonderful time in my life, being part of an eclectic crowd that included peace officers (mostly rangers), legislative analysts, lawyers, and lobbyists. Inside of this think tank was Vic Trevisanut.
Vic seemed to know every legislative bill coming through the California Assembly, especially if it affected law enforcement agencies or their budget. He worked full-time as a State Park Ranger, but he also gave a lot of hours to the ranger’s union afterward.
“So, how do you know Lisa?” Vic once asked me.
“I used to work with her,” I answered. “I was a park aid at the same place where she was a ranger.”
Vic nodded as if he understood, and turned to Lisa. “Hey LB! You brought your Park Aid to Sacramento so that she could be your private secretary?”
Lisa shrugged. “Doesn’t everybody?”
Vic was always making jokes—often about himself—and I liked him. He made us all laugh, even during intense conversations about legal issues pressing down on the law enforcement community. That’s how I remembered him.
Fast forward five years, and I was back in Tracy trying to start my life over, with a new baby. The relationship with the baby’s father ended disastrously, and I was devastated. I reconnected with Lisa one day, over the phone, and she encouraged me to go get my old job back—at the same State Park where we met.
“You know who is supervising that park now? Mario! You remember him.”
“Kind of,” I answered. Mario, Lisa, their friend, Bartlett, and I shared a dinner together after the Lieutenant Governor’s inaugural. But Mario was Lisa’s friend, not mine.
“Go back to Carnegie and apply,” she said. “Tell them how good you are—or better yet, show them.”
I did. In my interview, I convinced the new staff that I could do the job better than anyone else. I also mentioned that I knew Mario and Lisa. I was rehired, but when Mario— my boss—returned from an extended vacation, he neither remembered me from the legislative crowd in Sacramento, nor approved of my swift re-hire.
“You were hired illegally,” he told me when he first met me in the kiosk. “We’re supposed to hire only AFDC recipients.”
“I need this job, please,” I pleaded. “I have a baby and I need to work to support him.”
He thought about this for a moment, and then, straight-faced and through his mirrored sunglasses said: “You’re out of uniform. You need a black belt.”
I was able to keep my job, but Mario proved to be a silent and distant employer, compared to the other rangers who had supervised me in the past. I felt like I was always trying to prove my merit around him. It wasn’t until Vic called that things changed.
I was sitting in the main office one weekday afternoon when the phone rang. I answered it, and a man asked for Mario.
“It’s his day off,” I told him. “Can I take a message?”
“Yeah, just tell him that Vic called.”
I grabbed a message pad (fifty points if you remember those) and wrote it down. “Alright, Vic, I’ll have him call you back? Why not give me your last name just in case.”
“I’ll spell it,” Vic said. “Because no one ever gets it right. It’s T-R-E-V-I…”
“Is this Vic Trevisanut? Vic?”
“Yeah…” Vic sounded nonplussed on the other end.
“This is Janet, I don’t know if you remember me. I am Lisa’s friend, her roommate from Sacramento…”
Vic suddenly became animated. “Janet! The park aid that came with her to Sacramento? How are you?”
“I’m good,” I answered. This was only half-true. I was alive. I had a job and a healthy new baby, but I was a city hollowed out from a bomb blast. I had extremely low self-esteem. “How are you?”
“Yeah, listen, Janet. You need to get Mario to campaign for this guy in Daly City who’s running for state assembly. His name is Mike Nevin; he’s a good guy—really important to Law Enforcement. Just give me Mario’s number—I lost it somehow.”
I thought for a second. Giving out peace officer’s phone numbers is strictly forbidden—I was trained to never do this. It was hammered home several times; a violation of this might mean losing my job. I needed my job.
“I know you’re not supposed to,” Vic said, reading my mind. “But you know me and you know that Mario and I are friends, right?”
I did know Vic—and I knew he was friends with Mario. Vic was also a Ranger. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to, but gave Vic Mario’s phone number anyway.
“Don’t worry, Janet,” Vic said, laughing. “I promise I won’t tell him you gave me his number—but on one condition. You have to convince him that he needs to campaign for Nevin. And you need to come, too, alright?”
“Alright,” I agreed. I was no stranger to campaigns, and I relished the thought of reconnecting with the crowd I once knew. I smiled as I said goodbye.
Five minutes later, Mario called the office.
“Janet, this is Mario. I just talked to Vic Trevisanut. He told me you gave him my phone number. I’m pretty sure you have been briefed about this.”
I froze. I had the sudden urge to release my entire bladder.
“In this case it’s alright, Janet,” Mario continued. My heart started to beat again and I almost relaxed. “I know Vic, and we’re friends, but I am a sworn peace officer and you are not supposed to give out private phone numbers to anyone, even if they say they know me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “I’m sorry. I know Vic from Sacramento…”
“Yeah, that’s what he said. He also said that you were going to help the union by canvassing neighborhoods in Daly City. He told me that you suggested I be a part of this?”
I shook my head. Vic was known for assembling an army on short notice using any means necessary. “Umm… he asked me to ask you.”
“Alright,” Mario said. He seemed to be putting things together. “I guess I’ll call him back and tell him that I can’t be part of this. You can do this, but I have too much on my plate right now.”
He hung up; I was pretty sure I was in trouble.
Five minutes later Mario called back. After pleasantries he sighed. “You know, Daly City is pretty nice this time of year.”
We both laughed. Vic had talked him into it.
The canvas was well-planned; it was still hard work. Mario and I covered several neighborhoods together, delivering small house plants to supporters of Nevin. “Thank you for your support,” I would say, handing a potted plant to a pleasantly surprised constituent. After a long day of scaling stairs up and down steep hillsides in Daly City, we were exhausted.
The after-party was at a fancy banquet hall, where a campaign fundraiser was being held for the candidate. The cost of one plate for the deluxe buffet was ridiculously expensive, but the volunteers were given an appreciation plate. Vic, Mario, and I (like everyone else who worked the campaign) were given small plates, about the size of our hands.
“What the hell is this?” we asked each other, comparing our little saucers to the normal-sized dinner plates on the donors’ tables. We were granted as many trips to the buffet as we desired and we definitely made use of this. I made three trips to the sumptuous buffet, shamelessly mowing down food. Vic and Mario made several more, all as we relaxed at a comfortable table of eight and caught up like old friends.
I looked up to see Pat Johnston, San Joaquin County’s Assemblyman, walk in and start greeting people. I gasped.
“Look, guys!” I whispered to Mario and Vic. “There’s Pat Johnston!”
“Yeah?” Vic asked, as if I was overreacting.
“He’s our assemblyman! He’s a wonderful representative!”
“Do you want to meet him?” Vic asked. “It looks like he’s making his way around the room.”
Before I knew it, I was shaking hands with Pat Johnston, smiling and gushing about how I thought he was doing such a good job for our district.
“You were actually the first person I ever voted for,” I told him, beaming with unashamed admiration. “I turned eighteen and voted for you as an assemblyman!”
“Thank you,” he said, graciously. He wore an expression of guarded confusion, as if he wasn’t used to such attention by smiling young women. It was then, over his shoulder I saw Vic and Mario looking at me. I could tell that something was wrong by their expressions—like football coaches when a quarterback throws an interception. It was Mario who pulled me out of the game.
Without even thinking of its effect or awkwardness, Mario interrupted my gushing admiration by whispering loudly in my ear: “You have a big green piece of something stuck between your teeth.”
I froze. In that moment, I imagined that I could see it, sticking out of my teeth like an olive tree on the side of a cliff.
Without so much as “Oh, please excuse me,” I sat down and dove into my purse for my mirror. By the time I had pulled it out, I had run my tongue over my teeth at least five times. When I opened my mirror and smiled, it was gone. When I looked up, so was Pat Johnston. I had never before been so embarrassed…and I do embarrassing stuff all the time.
Mario and Vic came up to me, trying to suppress their laughter.
“That was the biggest piece of greenery in between someone’s teeth I have ever seen in my life!” Mario said—pity mixed with admiration.
“Yeah,” Vic agreed eagerly. “It was there for ten or twelve smiles!”
I couldn’t help laughing. It was so embarrassing, but Mario and Vic now were having a good laugh. Throughout the campaign—which Nevin did not win—I was sentenced to be part of an embarrassing story that Vic retold to anyone who met me.
Vic recruited, but also united, Mario and I to the Nevin campaign—and others after that. On the trail, I fell in love with Mario. Once outside the office, I saw him as a person, not just a boss. He eventually saw the same humanity in me. We were destined to be a couple.
Sue Trevisanut, Vic’s wife, was also a person who told good stories. Their tales were about normal happenings, but were transformed into extraordinary events simply because of the way they retold them. One story I remember was about the fate of their family pet—a rabbit.
“The rabbit was old,” Vic told Mario. “It was time for her to go and so…” He made a motion of a quick cut across the neck. The gesture made me laugh—I thought he was joking. “So Sue made a big, beautiful stew!”
Sue was laughing as he told this, but also shaking her head. “The kids came home from school,” she said.
“And they figured it out!” Vic leaned forward to punctuate his surprise. “My daughter came right out and asked us, where’s the rabbit? That’s her, isn’t it?”
“None of us ate the stew,” Sue laughed. “We had to throw it out.”
Remembering the story through the week made me break out in laughter.
Last week we got an email telling us that Vic had died. He had been living in Missouri and had remarried. His beloved Sue had died before him and their children were all grown with children of their own. It made Mario and I shake our heads in disbelief—and think of how fast time passes when it comes to friends and memories. I recount all of this as if it happened last week, but when I look at pictures of us back then, Mario has light brown hair and I have big 80’s patterns in my dresses. We were so young when we socialized with Vic and Sue—and now we have grown to be a couple of our age, wondering where the time has gone. On his obituary page, fellow rangers share stories like this one and memories they shared with him. We even saw a message from Vic’s daughter (maybe the one who called him on cooking the family rabbit), a heart-felt thanks to the people who were sharing. It made Mario and I remember how Vic was so important in the formation of our relationship—even in our lives. He was a man who meant so much to so many people.
To me, he will always be the guy out in front, bringing everyone together, with that infectious smile on his face and a great story to tell. If you are going to make friends, make sure they are stand-up fellows whose memories endure the test of time.
Vic’s obituary can be accessed here for the next few days: