Former Tri-Valley Congressman Pete Stark Dies, Pleasanton Weekly
Pete Stark, Congressman with Passion for Health Care, Dies at 88, Bloomberg
A Firebrand, Congressman Pete Stark Dies at 88 Years Old, The Independent
Memories of Pete
"Hillary and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Pete Stark. For four decades in Congress, Pete was a fierce advocate for the most vulnerable in our society. In the White House, I saw firsthand how he worked for an inclusive, peace-loving America, and how his deep policy knowledge and lawmaking skills helped millions of people—providing health care to workers after they leave a job, ensuring no one can be denied care at an emergency room, and giving coverage to millions of uninsured children and ultimately 20 million of his fellow Americans through the Affordable Care Act. Pete believed in the power of government to make a real difference in people’s lives. And he proved it for forty years. We send our condolences to his wife, Deborah, and his entire family."
-- President Bill Clinton
"We rise to honor the legacy of Representative Fortney "Pete'' Stark, who passed away on January 24. With his passing, the country, California, and the East Bay community lost a champion of the people and a leader of great courage and compassion who served in the House of Representatives for 40 years. Those of us who had the honor of serving with Pete in our California congressional delegation have all lost a dear friend. Pete was a relentless champion for universal healthcare. He had an unrivaled understanding of the challenges of America's health system. Whether it was fighting for COBRA to help working families maintain their coverage during times of financial insecurity or taking a leading role in writing the Affordable Care Act, Pete always seized opportunities to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for all. Pete will rightly be remembered and celebrated for his commitment to fighting for those in need, particularly America's children. He fought relentlessly to improve our children's access to quality education, to protect clean air for them to breathe and clean water for them to drink, and to leave them a more peaceful world. Pete leaves behind a legacy that will inspire generations of future lawmakers, and he leaves behind a wonderful family, whom he adored, who are with us tonight. May it give comfort to his wife, Deborah; his children, Jeffrey, Beatrice, Thekla, Sarah, Fish, also known as Fortney, Hannah, and Andrew; his eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and the entire Stark family that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time. Mr. Speaker, I ask all Members and guests in the gallery to rise for a moment of silence."
-- Speaker Nancy Pelosi
"We lost a devoted public servant with the recent passing of our dear friend, Representative Pete Stark. As a student at Mills College during the early 1970s, I was president of the Black Student Union, and Pete helped me with many of my organizing efforts. He was also the very first Member of Congress I voted for. Pete served for 40 years as a passionate and courageous public servant who made it his goal to advocate for those most in need. Through working alongside him in Congress, I came to admire his willingness to speak out for what he believed to be right, even when it meant challenging those in power. Pete made a difference in the lives of millions of people across the country. His substantial and lasting influence on health policy reflected his deeply held values of compassionate legislating and courageous advocacy. Pete believed it was his role to fight for the people's interests, not for special interests. He saw his role as one of advocacy for the underserved people of his district and throughout the country. Pete never failed to speak up when it came time to champion a more compassionate approach to governance. He truly spoke truth to power. My thoughts and prayers are with Pete's wife, Deborah, his children, his family, and his loved ones. May we carry his baton forward in our work for a more just world, a more compassionate world, and may he rest in peace."
-- Representative Barbara Lee
"Pete Stark was a giant. He opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He was for single payer before it was popular. He was a friend and mentor and helped build the progressive movement, even when it was lonely."
-- Representative Ro Khanna
"The Congressional Freethought Caucus extends its deep respect and condolences to the family and friends of former Congressman Pete Stark, who passed away at his home on January 24. We are grateful for Congressman Stark’s bold authenticity regarding his own non-religious views and his consistent leadership in defending the separation of church and state. His legacy helped pave the way for organizations like the Congressional Freethought Caucus, and we are humbled to continue building upon his work.
A self-described “accidental atheist,” former Congressman Stark became the first openly atheist Member of Congress in 2007. To Mr. Stark, admitting he was an atheist was not an act of bravery but honesty. However, opening up about being non-religious in itself was in fact very courageous at the time. It defied a conventional political wisdom that assumed non-believers could not be elected to public office. Congressman Stark’s decision to be true to himself and the people he served is a model for all public servants.
Despite decades of progress forged by leaders such as Representative Stark, the current Administration is politically weaponizing religion, threatening religious freedoms and civil liberties, and dragging our institutions and public policies down the slippery slope to theocracy. In challenging times it can be more comfortable to remain silent. However, in the words of Congressman Stark: “For those of you who are, each day, risking that comfort, you’ve got to continue to do it. When you make a little change in things, it reverberates through the system.”
The Congressional Freethought Caucus is dedicated to creating a space for all Members of Congress to collaboratively defend separation of church and state and the religious freedoms of the American people. We thank and salute Congressman Stark for his enduring legacy in championing these issues."
-- Congressional Freethought Caucus
"Congressman Pete Stark fought to expand healthcare access and strengthen American diplomacy. He was a champion in the fight against inequality. We mourn the loss of a dedicated public servant."
-- Representative Jerry McNerney
"It may surprise some today that there was a time when Members of Congress like Pete and me (though of different political parties and representing very different constituencies) were able to work closely together to improve Federal healthcare programs. My association with Pete was one of the highlights of my Congressional career.”
-- Former Representative Bill Gradison
“I first met Congressman Stark when I was a young assistant economics professor. His staff asked me to testify in support of raising the minimum wage. As I reflect on that experience, one word describes the Congressman: ‘warrior’. Congressman Stark was one-of-a-kind. On that day, his passion for social justice and tireless fight for vulnerable Americans became part of the scaffolding that underpins my personal mission, which is to empower people and their communities with economic thought and analysis.”
-- Bill Rodgers, Chair of the Board, National Academy of Social Insurance
“Humanists everywhere are saddened by the loss of former Representative Stark. He fought for progress and was a bulwark against the regressive policies of religious right that are inundating us today. By coming out as a nontheist he directly raised the profile of humanists and challenged blatantly false notions that only those who believe in god have a claim to morality and compassion.”
-- Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association
"I miss Pete. He was my boss for 6 years and a dear and loyal friend for 50 years. My introduction to politics came with his 1972 Congressional race and my government service began as his Administrative Assistant in Washington. Pete was outspoken and courageous. He was fun. Without fail he tilted toward peace and serving the poor and disenfranchised which he did with class and good humor. During our first trip to Washington following the election in 1972, we, with others including Rep. John Conyers, demonstrated in front of the White House against the war and in support of feeding the hungry. Though he had his partisan moments, Pete's ability to work across the aisle brought much success including guaranteeing emergency room access for all and creation of COBRA to permit people who lose their jobs to purchase health insurance. Unlike many in public life, Pete went about his work in a spirit of humility---he did not seek public acclaim. Another former staffer said it at a gathering in 2019, "Pete's work helped improve the lives of all Americans." Our country misses Pete Stark."
"We've lost someone who improved health care for everyone in our country — creating COBRA which enabled people to maintain heath coverage between jobs, authoring EMTALA to guarantee access to emergency care without needing to prove health insurance coverage, enacting the Stark Laws to limit physician self referral which is documented to create waste and cost lives and decades later extending that to prohibit physician-owned hospitals, reforming physician payment in Medicare, helping write and enact the Affordable Care Act, authoring numerous universal health care bills that would guarantee health coverage to everyone and seeing them move forward in others’ proposals today -- which he would love. He never cared whose name was on the bill, he cared that it got enacted and improved people’s lives. He was ahead of his time: authoring his and early carbon tax bill and then reintroducing in the 2000s to reignite the proposal. I could go on and on. But, what I want most to say is how much he meant to me. He was far more than a boss. He and Deborah made sure we were all a family. But, as a boss, boy was he a fun one. Being bored was never an option with Pete — the stories we can all tell. It was an honor to work for him and play a bit part in helping him achieve all he did. He will be sorely missed. They don’t make Members of Congress like him anymore. Be well Pete Stark."
"The best boss, mentor and friend. I am very sad but cherishing the memory of wonderful experiences."
-- Jo Cazanave
"Pete Stark made a lasting impression on me early in my career. In the mid-1980s, I was Deputy Administrator of the Federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid (now known as CMS, then as HCFA). Mr. Stark, as I always called him, was chair of the health subcommittee of Ways and Means. Bill Roper (my boss and the agency Administrator) and I had regular contact with Mr Stark. Since Bill and I were part of the Reagan Administration, we had policy disagreements with Mr Stark. At a critical moment, however, Mr Stark provided advice, and support, that...literally...changed my career. The issue was whether to bar a certain HMO from the Medicare program. There was abundant evidence of wrongdoing, yet Bill and I were hesitating because the principal owner of the HMO was politically influential in both political parties due to large campaign contributions. Bill and I were meeting with Mr Stark to update him on developments. We went on and on about the details but equivocating on what we would do. Having listened patiently for awhile, Mr Stark interrupted. He said he didn't need to hear more; he knew what needed to be done. And, Mr Stark said, Bill and I knew what needed to be done. The only question was whether we would do it. Mr Stark said he understood how unpopular banning the HMO from Medicare would be...in both parties, not to mention with tens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the HMO. He said he could not change that for us. All he could promise is that if we did the proper thing, he would stand with us. Mr Stark was correct. In our hearts, Bill and I had long known what had to be done. It was Mr Stark who galvanized us to act. We closed down the HMO and supported Federal prosecutors in charging and convicting some of the relevant people. As we expected, there was a political uproar, and even some of our Administration colleagues were unhappy. As promised, Mr Stark supported our action. Mr Stark did not like most anything about the Reagan Administration, but he sized us up as decent people shrinking from controversy. Mr Stark didn't shrink from controversy. He followed his sense of justice wherever it might lead. I am forever grateful to Mr Stark for driving home to me that it is not enough to have good intentions; you must be prepared to act on them."
-- Glenn Hackbarth
"I am saddened to hear this. He was always so available to my students both in Fremont and D.C. He listened to them and asked questions. He didn’t need to be the smartest guy in the room. He was a frequent visitor to my junior high and high school classrooms. He always appeared to have time for students even when I knew he was very busy. He once met (by accident) my CA State Championship We the People team on the sidewalk outside the Cannon Building and offered to take them all to dinner. My son interned for him in D.C. the summer of 1999. He and his office made sure the interns had a very rich experience. My son answered constituent mail and was asked to draw a political cartoon for Roll Call which was published. It was on health care. He was only 17. I knew Pete to be a passionate and caring human being. He did not take the easy road. Thank you for your service. My thoughts to his family. May your fond memories sustain you. ♥️"
-- Cheryl Cook-Kallio
"I got to meet and know Congressman Stark when I was elected to the San Leandro City Council and the subsequent years of service. He was encouraging, supportive, easy to talk with and had good stories. I remember our annual visits to his office in DC and I remember how accessible he was here in town. He was a grand statesman who saw his job to help those who needed help. I could give many examples He was a gift to the people of California. Thank you for sharing him with us. Blessings and prayers of peace and comfort to the family."
-- Surlene Grant
"Pete was a gentle giant, a man who stood for big ideas and big change. I met him, as so many people did, when he personally returned a phone call to his district office. He did not shy away from a righteous fight, punch down, or cloak himself in mediocrity and call it pragmatism. Even at his most cantankerous he was a warm and caring man, a father, grandfather and a good friend. I was honored to work with him."
-- Sharon Cornu
"I was a constituent. My main memory of him comes from a townhall in the early 2000s where a constituent asked him how to approach the problem of high medication costs. His answer? Nationalize pharmaceutical companies. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we nice had unapologetic progressives in Congress."
-- Margarita Lacabe
"I’ll never forget the fearlessly flippant way he’s put bigots in their place. One time at a town hall, Minutemen were shouting him down about his opposition to a wall. And without missing a beat he came back “If you build a 20 ft wall, I’ll sell a 25 ft ladder.” I laughed so hard. It filled me with so much joy to watch MY congressman throw down with the worst and most hateful people in the community."
-- Alex Hilke
"Congressman Pete Stark was a tireless maverick two generations ago on issues that are now mainstream, thanks in part to his efforts. A banker who bravely fought for health care access and job benefits for low income and blue collar workers, he persisted and survived vicious attacks from wealthy industries. Those who only saw his last political campaign don't know what a force he was for decades in the House for human needs, social justice and political reform. He and other "Watergate babies" inspired me greatly when worked with them in Congress 35 years ago to stem the nuclear arms race and create a safer world. May his life and legacy inspire us to carry on those noble fights and meet today's great challenges, and encourage our current politicians to lead like tenacious tigers, not cower like craven sheep."
-- David Lewis
"Pete Stark was a gem. He fought for the poor, for children, for health care, and stuck to his guns. I do miss his sense of humor."
-- Pat Kite
"I remember Pete as a friend and business partner. Even while he was serving as a Congressman in Washington, D.C. Pete was an active, forward-thinking businessman. Many of his investments involved partners of both Democratic and Republican persuasions and was respected by all. He was a partner for all seasons, through thick and thin. I learned a lot from Pete, who was my mentor for many years. I was deeply affected by his sense of ethics and calm through adversity. We always had fun with our business endeavors.He was one-of-a-kind."
-- John Papini
"First of all my condolences to the Stark family. There are so many memories over our 21 plus years together I truly don't know where to begin. As I often told him "some day I'm going to write a book!" I can just see his sheepish grin now. Thanks for the phone call Deborah. My heart goes out to you. My love to you all; Jeff, Bea, Thekla, Sarah, Fish and Andrew and Hannah."
-- Ella Mumphard
"I cannot right now. It’s just sinking in. He was a big part of my life, as I was to his. I guess you had to be there, but you have your own good stories. Better yet for mine, ask Jo and Gaye—Peace, Frank"
-- Frank Kiefer
"Nontheists dedicated to strengthening the wall of separation between government and religion lost a giant in our community with the passage of Rep. Stark, a Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Member. We remember Pete as a man whose convictions led him to break through barriers, as he did in 2007 when he became the first Member of Congress to openly identify as an atheist. He was a true inspiration to nontheists; by openly serving in Congress as an atheist, he encouraged and validated those who faced criticism for their nonbelief from families, coworkers, and friends."
-- Debbie Allen
"So many great days and evenings on the West River, so many great conversations, so much fun and laughter, several splendid times sailing, boating, playing tennis, such great arguments over this or that -- never enough!"
-- Terry Smith
"Incredibly decent and committed individual. We are all so blessed to have been a brief part of his political life."
-- Bill Ward
"At a time when the Vietnam anti-war movement was beginning to fracture in despair, Pete Stark was one of the beacons of hope who kept people going. Because he was coming from being a conservative banker his stand meant that much more. He made a lot of other powerful impacts in the years since, but I'll still remember being a 20-year-old student activist and how much I and others looked up to him."
-- Paul Loeb
"Pete was the ultimate advocate for the less fortunate, veterans, those needing healthcare, housing and for local government concerns. As a former Hayward City Council Member, it was an honor to have him park in my designated spot as he held his legendary town hall meetings and everyone upstairs anxiously awaited for "Pete" to update them on congressional happenings. Those times and interactions will always be remembered. His legacy lives on.My best to his entire family, and as Pete would say in conclusion. Be Well."
-- Olden Henson
"In 1986 I was honored to be a part of Pete's campaign staff. The main office was housed at Eastmont Mall. My most vivid memory is of people commuting from Hayward, Castro Valley, and San Lorenzo to volunteer for his reelection. It was there that I met Dobie Gelles and Mary Ann Reno, two of many who would be inspired by Pete to go on to do great community based political organizing. Now, on the light side ... I was fortunate to be schooled when I first arrived to work that while we were welcome to indulge in the soft drinks found in the office refrigerator, under no circumstances were we to take the last can of Tab, ever! That was Pete's beverage of choice. Well, one unfortunate soul drank that last can of Tab, and wouldn't you know it ... Pete opened the frig saw that there was no Tab, and let out this huge whoop. The room went silent. We froze. The Last Tab Rule had been violated. To the rescue came Jo bearing a cold can of Tab that she kept hidden for such an emergency. Ah, the good old days. Pete Stark is someone whose legacy of feisty progressive expression and policy development will endure. Miss ya!"
-- Maria Ochoa
"I and Pubic Advocacy for Kids, my board and network send our love, condolences and prayers on the loss of our friend Pete. He was such an authentic child advocate, so passionate for the dispossessed, marginalized and special needs children, and an asset to the House. I first remembrance with Pete went back to 1972 when he and Ted Kennedy teamed up to advance single pay health insurance which led to Ted's book In Critical Condition. Since, there were so many meetings in his office from education to health care, to juvenile justice to foster care--his fight for kids and parents knew no bounds. And he was so utterly accessible and fought for his state of California. Our kids will miss this champion and I will miss a friend. So much love to you Deborah and your family. In admiration, Arnie."
-- Arnold Fege
"I only worked in Pete's district office for one year, but he served as my Congressman since before I was born. My parents took us to visit his office in DC when we were young. Working in his office was a great honor, and one of my favorite experiences in my life. His constituents trusted him (and his office) to be on their side. Our country has lost a great man who truly cared about improving the lives of its citizens."
-- Elizabeth Tyler
"There are many ways to measure greatness and in every measure Pete surpassed that test. He was a great American, a great public servant, a great human being and most of all he was a great friend. For me, his warmth, his hospitality, his generosity, his honesty and his support never wavered. I always felt as though I had not quite reciprocated in full. To Deborah and the family, to Jeff and Annie, to Jo, to our many mutual friends I share my great sorrow and wish you all the best. To Pete, you will be missed beyond words and I thank you for your friendship, all the great memories and many kindnesses. I am grateful to have had you in my life."
-- Mark Stein
"I have many fond memories of going over to Jeff's House on a break from Athenian and having serious discussions with Pete about life..... Pete always stood up for what he believed and will be sorely missed. We send our love to the Stark Family...."
-- Randy & Phronsie Markin
"I knew Pete Stark only through his son, Fish. As a little boy at summer camp, Fish explained his nickname and mentioned his dad as part of that explanation. Later as a middle school, Fish was a positive force for social change, and I remember thinking his father must be so proud of him. Following Fish, mainly online though high school and beyond, I’m convinced that he has grown into a man of conviction and a force for good. Condolences to the family, and especially to Fish, who was such a sweet and fun little boy."
-- Lisa Dorsey
"My husband and I lived in DC in the late 60s until the mid 70s. He was a big part of our lives as Edie Wilkie and i Were best friends at Vassar and Peter was from Milwaukee as was I!!!!!!!!!!!! We have wonderful memories of events on the eastern shore of Maryland...and meeting along the way children particulary named Thekla...as so many Theklas of so many generations were part of my Milwaukee life.
We also saw Peter in California along with Don Edwards...
He was definitely an ongoing part of our lives even as we moved to Asia and then to New York CIty. What a personality with strong beliefs and a great big heart."
Pete's staff share memories of their time working with him at his 2019 Summer Picnic.