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Tri-Valley Hero: Lifetime Achievement, Danville's Mike Doyle

Outgoing Town Councilman reflects on 25-year tenure on dais

Change is in the air with the new year on the horizon, and Danville's town government certainly won't feel the same starting next month.

For the first time in 25 years, Mike Doyle won't be sitting on the Town Council.

A U.S. Air Force veteran who moved to Danville toward the end of his service, made his living as a private investigator based in town, helped raise his family there and spent his "retirement" serving as a devoted councilman, Doyle will sit for his final meeting Dec. 6 to conclude a six-term tenure that left an indelible impact on the town he so often affectionately refers to as "Camelot."

"It's been a great ride. I truly enjoy what I'm doing. I truly enjoy helping the town. I just absolutely adore this town," Doyle, 87, said reflecting on his long run on the council. "To me, it is a very special place."

Born into an Irish Catholic family during the Great Depression in 1929, Doyle was raised in Mahanoy City, Pa., a small town in the coal region of eastern Pennsylvania.

Right after high school in 1947, Doyle began carving his own path by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. "My dad had a job for me in the mines, and I knew -- no, I'm not going to work in any mines. I've been around them. I'm not going to work there," he remembered.

After training and serving in the U.S. for several months, Doyle volunteered for an assignment in Germany in June 1948. He was stationed on a supply base in Bavaria during the Berlin Airlift, an effort in 1948 and 1949 to deliver supplies to Germans in West Berlin after the Soviets blocked ground access to the region.

"The people had no food. It was just devastating." he said, describing the country in the immediate aftermath of World War II. During the airlift, the Americans delivered "everything -- food, medical supplies, blankets. Everything that they needed to keep them from starving and freezing to death."

A staff sergeant assigned as a chaplain's assistant, Doyle served in Germany for roughly three more years after the airlift.

"I loved it because I got to meet everybody. I mean, colonels, generals, all of them. Sooner or later everybody has to come down to the chapel. I knew everybody," he said. "They called me 'Preacher' because I worked with the Catholic priest."

One of his fondest memories was having a private audience with Pope Pius XII while he joined several other military officials in escorting Bishop Fulton J. Sheen -- well-recognized from hosting radio and TV programs in his day -- during his trip to be consecrated as a bishop.

"Being the only enlisted man, I was in the back. And the pope says, 'Sergeant, come here.' And I went up, and he said, 'You kneel right there.' And I knelt; I was right there with Pope Pius XII," Doyle recalled with a smile.

When his assignment was up, he said he signed up for six more years in Germany.

It wouldn't come to pass, however, after an order requiring any service members overseas for more than four years to return stateside. He remembered his commanding officer calling him in and saying, "Preacher, do you know where California is? Because that's where you're going."

So, Doyle traveled back to the U.S., staying with family a few weeks in Pennsylvania and then flying to meet a fellow serviceman in South Dakota before the two drove out to California in his friend's brand-new yellow Chevrolet convertible.

Doyle was set to serve at a new basic training base being opened outside Pleasanton -- now known as Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, "Camp Parks," in Dublin.

He and his friend made it to the Bay Area, drove up Highway 24 and onto Hartz Avenue and as he remembered, "We see this sign that says, Elliott's" -- downtown Danville's staple bar.

Doyle went inside, leading to an exchange with the bartender that Doyle still fondly remembers.

The bartender said, "Hey sergeant, what can I do for you?"

Doyle replied, "I got two questions for you: Do you have a men's room and do you know where Pleasanton is?"

The bartender answered, "Yes. Yes. I got a question for you: Do you drink?"

Doyle said, "Yes," and the bartender followed with, "Well, step up to the bar."

"I went out, knocked on the window and brought my buddy in there. Two days later, we left," Doyle said with dead-pan delivery before a chuckle.

He served at Parks Air Force Base until 1953, and often returned to Danville and Elliott's bar, where he got to know a lot of the local residents, ranchers and members of some of Danville's pioneer families. He said he particularly enjoyed listening to the stories of Danville's old-timers. "These people, they knew everything," he added.

Doyle soon settled in Danville for good: "I met a girl, got married, bought some property, got out of the service and built a house and my children were all raised here, and I've been here ever since."

He and his wife, Joe Anne, have been married for 63 years. They raised their five children in Danville, and eight of their 11 grandchildren live in or were raised in Danville. He worked for nearly four decades as a private investigator based in town.

Well-versed in Danville tradition, Doyle said he first became active politically at the local level in the mid-1980s -- several years after the town's incorporation -- after hearing of a proposal by the Town Council to change the name of Hartz Avenue.

"That was stupid. Why would you change the name from a founding father? They wanted to change it to Danville Boulevard ... They said people were getting lost. And I said, 'No way.' How could you get lost in a two-block area?"

He said he helped start a signature-gathering effort to recall council members to prevent the possible name change.

Shortly after a council member caught wind of their recall drive, the council held a crowded meeting in a church hall "and they decided they wouldn't change the name; it's still Hartz Avenue," Doyle said. "Technically, I put a bull's eye on my back with the Town Council because they didn't like what I did."

A few years later, Doyle decided to run for the council, with him and two incumbents vying for three available seats. "They were going to have to appoint me ... and so they picked some guy to run; he was their hand-picked candidate."

Doyle said his campaign got a boost when his opponent was caught trying to steal a Doyle campaign sign. "It was like a gift from heaven for me because I made a big deal of it," he added, with a laugh. "I raised Cain."

"I won by 68 votes," Doyle recalled. He joined the council in 1991, a place he'd call home for the next 25 years.

He said his favorite accomplishments include helping the town balance its budget every year, supporting its economic development efforts, restoring the Veterans Memorial Building, fixing the little problems like a recurring puddle downtown and helping coordinate beneficial public-private partnerships, like those that led to a donation for the town's first police dog.

"We're one of the five most fiscally sound towns in the state of California, we're one of the six safest towns in California, we have beautiful schools, beautiful parks. I mean, it's just gorgeous for people to live here," Doyle added.

As for choosing not to seek a seventh term this fall, Doyle said "it wasn't an easy decision to make" but he recognized it was the right time to step away.

"I just figure that 25 years, and I've accomplished quite a bit. I feel perfectly happy ... Here I am, 87 years old. Still going strong. Can still do everything I want. In good health," he added. "It's been a great ride. You can't make this stuff up. If I were to write it, I would not change a thing."

Hero FYI

* Mike Doyle keeps in regular contact with three friends he went to first grade with. "Must've been the water we had in Pennsylvania," he quipped.

* He traveled throughout Europe while stationed abroad, including attending the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway.

* A group photo Doyle took with Pope Pius XII, Bishop Sheen and others was featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide, Doyle recalled: "Needless to say, my mother was ecstatically happy."

* He is good friends with now-retired Col. Gail S. "Hal" Halvorsen, known as the "Berlin Candy Bomber" who dropped candy to children during the Berlin Airlift. Nearly six decades later, Doyle helped coordinate a meeting between Halvorsen and Danville's Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who piloted the "Miracle on the Hudson" emergency water landing in 2009.

* Doyle and wife Joe Anne raised their five children in Danville: Michael, Mary Anne, Terry, Celeste and John. Their daughter Mary Anne, who died from a brain tumor in 1989, was the first female police officer in Moraga.

* Joe Anne Doyle taught in the school district for nearly 45 years. She still works in education, as a resource specialist at St. Isidore School in Danville.

* Describing his devotion to Danville, Doyle invoked the words of a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager: "Tommy Lasorda once said 'if you open my veins, out would roll Dodger blue.' Well, I like to say if you open my veins, out would roll Danville green."

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