Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne handed out the final Mayor's Award of his four-term tenure during a virtual ceremony that also included Thorne's peers offering special recognition to the city's outgoing mayor.
Taking home the 2020 Pleasanton Mayor's Award was Chris Miller, a longtime leader in the local military veteran community -- so well-regarded an advocate and volunteer in Pleasanton that Thorne quipped he was surprised to learn Miller had never received the Mayor's Award before.
Bestowing the award, albeit from home amid the pandemic, was one of the final official acts for Thorne as Pleasanton's mayor, capping more than 25 years in city service.
"For the last eight years, you have used this evening to show your appreciation to all of our community leaders for their selfless service. With tonight being the last Mayor's Award dinner you will host, it only seems appropriate to take a moment and express our immense gratitude and thank you for your decades of service and leadership to Pleasanton," Vice Mayor Kathy Narum said to Thorne at the end of the Nov. 12 ceremony.
"It has been a really joyful experience to work with all of you," Thorne said in response. "We have managed to keep this community great ... We've worked together, and that's the key I think, to having a successful council and a successful community. Is make sure you respect one another and work together."
The half-hour event, held online via Zoom instead of the traditional in-person dinner program hosted by the city, featured recognition of the work of all city commissions and committees during the year before Thorne revealed the winner of the 2020 Mayor's Award.
The honor went to Miller, with the mayor citing his "long tenure of volunteer work."
A helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War who settled in Pleasanton with his family in the early 1970s and worked a long career flying commercial airlines, Miller has volunteered in various capacities throughout the local community but is best known for his work supporting military veterans.
Inspired by the unwelcome feeling he and other returning Vietnam service members felt, Miller strove to ensure active duty military and veterans would receive a positive homecoming in the future.
To that end, he helped create a support group for families of Pleasanton soldiers during the Gulf War in the 1990s -- an organization that evolved in the next decade into Pleasanton Military Families, a nonprofit known for sending care packages to troops overseas and supporting "welcome home" parades for service men and women in Pleasanton.
"A great surprise, Jerry," Miller said via Zoom on Nov. 12.
"I've enjoyed my role in this community, and it wouldn't be just me; there were all kinds of people that helped with this program," he added. "It went one with many, many helpers ... the packouts, the parades and the welcome homes, on and on and on. It is truly an honor for me to receive this, Jerry."
Miller adds the 2020 Mayor's Award to a crowded list of special recognitions that include a 2010 Juanita Haugen Community of Character Award, a 2020 Ed Kinney Community Patriot award, the inaugural Tri-Valley Heroes Community Spirit award from the Pleasanton Weekly in 2012 and the Weekly's Man of the Year for 2009.
The focus then shifted briefly to Thorne, who is wrapping up his final year as mayor after serving four terms, the maximum under the city's term limit law.
An Army veteran and retired executive from Hewlett Packard, Thorne spent 10 years on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission before earning election to the City Council in June 2005. He won re-election to full council terms in 2006 and 2010, and then successfully campaigned for the mayor's seat in November 2012 -- winning the first of four consecutive two-year terms.
"I just wanted to, on behalf of the organization, our city employees, our executive team, thank you for your years of public service over the last couple of decades. Between all the ups and downs, that I can think of it's been mostly ups, and you have a lot to be proud of as mayor," City Manager Nelson Fialho said during the Mayor's Award ceremony.
Fialho said Thorne's legacy, in his mind, would be defined by three attributes: patience as a leader, respectful nature, commitment to service above self. "It's been a real privilege to work with you," he added.
"On behalf of the City Council, we want you to know what an honor and a privilege it has been to serve this wonderful city of Pleasanton with you," Narum told Thorne that night. "I think you truly have embodied what it means to be a public servant. The impact of your unwavering commitment to improving the quality of life in Pleasanton will last for generations to come."
The recognitions of Thorne continued the following week during the final regular council meeting with Thorne presiding as mayor. Fellow council members and regional elected officials in attendance on Nov. 17 praised Thorne for his decades of service to Pleasanton.
"You have been a great partner; your wisdom and your energy and your insight have been so important to me," State Sen. Steve Glazer said.
"We've had a great partnership over the years; I'm very appreciative of that ... this work that we do is a partnership," Glazer added. "We don't have to agree on everything, but we get our best work done when we work well together and communicate well together. And there could be no better example of that than the good mayor, Mayor Thorne."
"It's been an honor to work alongside both of you these past few years, starting in boom times and closing out with some very challenging times," State Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan said. "The leadership coming out of Pleasanton has been truly incredible during COVID, and I know that has been at your leadership, Mayor Thorne, so thank you for that."
"Your leadership over the last 16 years, Mayor Thorne, has been tremendous and outstanding," Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley said.
"I'm amazed at all that you've done for our community; I continue to be surprised ... You really have made this a full-time job to our community, if not more, and I truly want to thank you from the bottom of my heart," Councilwoman and Mayor-elect Karla Brown told Thorne. "There will be big shoes to fill."
Thorne, who would normally have had one more meeting as mayor next week before terming out, revealed at the end of the Nov. 17 meeting that he would be unavailable because of a major surgery that would involve up to two weeks in the hospital and another month of recovery at home.
Narum told the Weekly that Thorne underwent the surgery on Friday and was recovering well at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto.
"He is doing well on his road toward recovery. He's up and moving around his hospital room, and he's even starting to give the nurses some grief," the vice mayor said with a chuckle.
Narum added that anyone who'd like to send a card or share well-wishes for Thorne can mail them to the mayor care of the city of Pleasanton at 123 Main St., PO Box 520, Pleasanton CA 94566-0802.
Editor's note: Reporter Julia Baum contributed to this story.