Former Santa Barbara-Ventura Congressman Robert Lagomarsino died Sunday at the age of 94 at his home on his family ranch in Ojai.
The old-school Republican politician and UCSB alumnus is remembered for serving under five presidents during his nearly two-decade career in Congress, serving the Central Coast communities for 13 years in the California Senate and serving the city of Ojai as mayor for three years.
Mr. Lagomarsino also championed the establishment of the Channel Islands National Park and CSU Channel Islands. A mainland visitors center at the Ventura Harbor was named after him, according to local news reports.
The seasoned politician was born on Sept. 4, 1926 in Ventura, and attended Ventura High School. He served in the U.S. Navy as a pharmacist during WWII, and graduated from UCSB in 1950 and Santa Clara University School of Law in 1954.
The year 1958 marked the start of Mr. Lagomarsino’s political career. He was elected to the Ojai City Council, and shortly after, served as its mayor at the age of 32. While he was mayor, he met his late wife Norma, and they got married in 1961.
Norma had two sons when she married Mr. Lagomarsino, and the two had a daughter together. Norma died in 2015.
Then, in 1961, he was elected to the California Senate and named one of five outstanding young men in the state by the California Junior Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Lagomarsino served in the state Senate from 1961 to 1974, and served under then-governor Ronald Reagan. He became the senior ranking senator from Southern California and a member of the five-person Senate Rules Committee.
His achievements during his time as a state senator include the Garrigus-Lagomarsino Act (1963) which authorized vocational education centers in each county of California; the California Child Anti-Pornography Act (1969); the Marine Resources Protection Act (1970); the California Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation; the Jury Reform Act (1972); the Consumer Protection Act (1972) which authorized cities to create anti-fraud units; and the Welfare Reform Act (1973).
Mr. Lagomarsino then served as a U.S. Congressman from 1974 to 1992. While there, he authored legislation that created the Channel Islands National Park and the Los Padres National Forest, among others.
His congressional record consistently supported clean air and water, conservation, governmental efficiency, law enforcement, safe transportation of hazardous materials, tax reform, strong military defense, veterans affairs and preventative efforts of nuclear proliferation.
He’s known for regularly meeting with President Reagan while Congress was in session, and even flew home with him on Air Force One on occasion, as President Reagan’s ranch was in Mr. Lagomarsino’s district.
Jim Worthen was both an aide and a campaign manager for Mr. Lagomarsino. He became his campaign manager in his first state senate race in 1966, and got to go to Sacramento with him as his aide for the first year of the Reagan governorship.
He then served with Mr. Lagomarsino for two and a half years in the state senate, and they stayed in touch after that.
“He was my mentor,” Mr. Worthen told the News-Press. “He taught me the right way to do politics. His word was his bond.”
Mr. Worthen said that Mr. Lagomarsino would tell anybody they dealt with in his time in politics: “If you give your word, you better keep it, and if you don’t, we’ll never do business with you again.”
“It worked,” Mr. Worthen said. “He was a wonderful man, honest, the epitome of good in politics.”
He was known as an old school, philosophically conservative politician, but Mr. Worthen said he highly respected the opinions of others, and often asked for them.
“He’d call me and he’d say, ‘Tell me, what do you think about it?’ He started asking for my advice, and I would think, ‘Me? Why?’” Mr. Worthen said. “He was that open with people. He wanted to hear what they thought and where their information came from.”
He added that he hadn’t spoken with Mr. Lagomarsino for the past two years, but the Saturday before his death, he had just been sharing classic “Reagan and Lagomarsino stories” with a man who hired him as a ghost writer.
Mr. Worthen said as a spiritual man, he didn’t believe it was a coincidence that Mr. Lagomarsino was on his mind last weekend.
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, issued a statement following Mr. Lagomarsino’s death.
He wrote, “I am saddened to hear of former Congressman Bob Lagomarsino’s passing. Congressman Lagomarinso left a lasting impact on the Central Coast by championing the creation of the Channel Islands National Park and for his top notch constituent service, but these are just two notable achievements in a long legacy of public service.
“His civil, bipartisan approach to politics is sorely missed in today’s Congress and I strive to bring that same spirit to my own service. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones, may his memory live on in the contributions he made to our Central Coast community and to our country.”
Family members said Mr. Lagomarsino died peacefully at home. He was preceded in death by his wife, stepson and a grandson. He is survived by his daughter, stepson, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.
The family asks that donations be made to the Channel Islands Park Foundation (online at www.ciparkfoundation.org/give-now/ or by mail to 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001) or to Robert J. and Norma Lagomarsino Department of Archives and Special Collections care of the CSUCI Foundation (online at www.csuci.edu/giving/make-a-gift.htm or by mail to 1 University Dr., Camarillo, CA 93012).