By Tim Hunt
The valley loses a distinguished and humble leaderUploaded: Oct 16, 2014
The Livermore Valley lost one of its distinguished leaders last week when David Mertes died at the age of 83 on Oct. 9.
David accomplished much in his professional career in the California community college system. He had served as president of both Santa Barbara Community College and College of San Mateo before moving to Sacramento as chancellor of the four-college Los Rios district.
He finished his educational career by leading the entire community college system as chancellor for eight years from 1988 to 1996. His skill at dealing with public policy for higher education with governors and the Legislature was evident.
After retiring, he turned his attention to volunteer community service in his hometown of Livermore where he and his wife, Barbara, had lived for decades. Barbara is a native of Livermore and the founding dean of Las Positas College. The arts center at Las Positas is named in her honor. She's also a long-time trustee of the college district, being elected to that role after retiring as a college administrator.
Given his love and career in the community college system, it was no surprise that David was among the founding members of the Las Positas College Foundation.
He also played a significant role with the ValleyCare Hospital Board of Directors, which he joined in a time of turmoil as fellow director the Rev. Bill Nebo put it. The planned merger with John Muir had been rejected by the hospital membership and new directors with very different viewpoints had been elected.
Bill recalled, "It was a very very tumultuous timeshould we merge? Shall we not? Dave was one of those wonderful civilizing forces that kept discussion focused and not personal.
"He was positive, but never naive. His opinion formed by data and he was incredibly diplomatic. He could say hard things that people needed to hear without tearing them down."
John Gordon, like Nebo and David a former president of the Livermore Rotary, worked with David on the board of directors and other projects.
""He had such class. He was the smartest person in the room, but he made everyone feel some welcome and included," John said.
That's an observation that Bill shared as well. Whether you were the president of the Rotary club or a server at the Doubletree where the club met, David treated everyone well.
His commitment to ValleyCare, where he served 15 years on the board and five years as chairman as he guided the directors back to a common vision, meshed with some of his Rotary work.
Former Livermore Mayor Cathie Brown, at the invitation of Lawrence Livermore National Lab, was part of a delegation to the Russian city of Snezhinsk. That is the Russian research city for nuclear weapons like Livermore or Los Alamos. Their goal was to establish a sister city relationship and to help the scientists and engineers there transition to the private sector because the Russian government had much less need and little money to pay them after the end of the Cold War. She asked David to spearhead of medical part of that plan.
He led the effort to bring a women's center to the Russian city, arranging for equipment and transportation as well as funding to transform an old warehouse into a women's medical center.
The mayor remembers him as "so tenacious" in pursuing those objectives to help pregnant women and the babies they would deliver.
The Livermore Rotary also worked to establish a Rotary Club in Snezhinsk, believing that the values and goals of Rotary would build friendships across the former adversaries.
David made a number of trips to former Soviet Union countries to provide high-tech medical equipment to places where it was lacking and way beyond the means of the local medical system to provide it.
And, through it all, he was a devoted husband to Barbara, particular after retirement when their careers did not take them different places. Barbara routinely attended the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church and then David would meet her for their morning "date" at Peet's in downtown Livermore. That's was a favorite meeting spot for T.J. Gilmartin, another former Rotary president, and his wife, also Barbara, who enjoyed conversations with the Mertes many mornings.
And then David would be off to another appointment in his yellow VW bughe could easily have afforded the Mercedes that Barbara drove for yearsbut the VW served him just fine.