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Hundreds of people gathered at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday to pay tribute to a man whose sharp wit, superb business sense and brusqueness helped shape Santa Rosa.

"Some credited him with change. Others blamed him," former Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron said of Hugh Codding during a memorial service for the late developer.

Codding died April 3 at the age of 92 from dementia, following a rich life that included high-stakes deal-making, raising a family, serving as mayor and gallivanting around the globe on hunting and fishing adventures — often traveling in his private plane.

Codding rose from relatively modest beginnings, the son of an insurance broker, to become a prominent developer, or as the headline on a magazine article that was featured as part of a video tribute to him at Monday's memorial service put it, "He stayed in town and built a city."

Befitting that larger-than-life personality, on stage Monday loomed a replica of the sign that generations who have driven along Highway 101 through Santa Rosa are familiar with, the words "Codding" and "Town" revolving slowly just as they do outside the mall he built.

People who achieve such public success rarely do so with modesty, and Codding was no exception.

Jackie Simons, who worked for Codding as his property manager, recalled one occasion when he told her to turn the sign off during a heated dispute he was having with city officials, who considered revolving signs illegal.

Simons said that after she did as her boss asked, he called her and asked her what was wrong with the sign.

"That's what was wrong with the sign," Simons said Monday, pointing to the replica as the word "Town" revolved into view. Codding had wanted the sign stopped so that his name was facing the highway.

Most people will remember Codding for that mall and for his other prized creation, the Montgomery Village shopping area and the hundreds of homes that surround it. He also had a mostly well-earned reputation for being short with people and having a sharp tongue that could sometimes slice.

Even in situations where Codding was lending someone a hand, the gift often did not come wrapped with Hallmark niceties.

Jim Codding said he called his uncle after he got out of the Navy in World War II and was elated when Codding offered him a job "at the top."

"I liked the sound of that," Jim Codding said.

But on his first morning on the job, he learned that meant pounding nails on roofs at one of his uncle's many construction projects.

Jim Codding said he ultimately was grateful for the lesson in hard work, and he eventually rose to become his uncle's second-in-command.

Likewise, David Codding said he came to appreciate his father's decision to not loan him a large sum of money after the younger Codding fell on hard times.

"It was probably the best lesson I ever got," said David Codding, who now owns the Montgomery Village shopping center.

For all of Codding's brashness and penchant for drawing attention to himself, many also idolized him and were grateful for his largesse.

He inspired fierce loyalty in his employees, many who were in the audience Monday and had worked for Codding for decades.

Allan Brenner, president of the Earle Baum Center for the Blind, attended the service with his guide dog, Delta, out of respect for Codding's generous help in getting the center up and running.

Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in the foyer before the service that a "person doesn't have to look hard to see his (Codding's) influence on the community."

Codding served with the Navy Seabees in World War II. His memorial service concluded with a Navy honor guard presenting his widow, Connie, with an American flag, and a rendering of Taps.

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