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Schuyler Jeffries, former Santa Rosa mayor, dies of heart attack

Schuyler Lowell Jeffries (COURTESY PHOTO)

GUY KOVNER,

Schuyler Lowell Jeffries, a former Santa Rosa mayor and architect who devoted nearly 30 years to public service, died Tuesday of a heart attack at a Santa Rosa hospital. He was 83.

Jeffries, who was noted for his sharp intellect and commitment to civic engagement, led the city through challenging times, including a response to the 1985 illegal discharge of more than 750 million gallons of wastewater into the Russian River.

“He was the face and the voice of the city during that crisis,” former Mayor Sharon Wright said.

At a luncheon meeting Thursday with Wright and other former mayors, Jeffries recalled being dubbed “Mayor Sludge” at that time when Santa Rosa gained widespread media attention for the spill, along with state pressure to prevent it from happening again. The “Big Spill,” as it was known, became the catalyst for an 18 year, $205 million project to pump the city’s wastewater up to the The Geysers geothermal field.

Jeffries’ family said he enjoyed the mayor’s lunch and was rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency the next day.

Jeffries served for 27 years in a variety of public offices, starting with his appointment to the Santa Rosa Planning Commission in 1964. After nine years on the planning panel, he served 10 years on the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, followed by a decade on the council. Appointed to fill a council vacancy in 1981, Jeffries subsequently won two full terms on the council when it consisted of five members.

Wright, who was elected to the council in 1992 and served for 12 years, said she asked Jeffries what she needed to know to make a difference at City Hall. Jeffries advised her that she should “learn how to count to three,” constituting a council majority.

“If you can get to three you’ll be successful,” he told her.

Born in San Francisco, Jeffries moved with his family to Ross in the late 1940s. He met his future wife Shelly at Tamalpais High School, where Jeffries played quarterback for the football team and she wound up as a cheerleader for rival Drake High School.

Graduating from high school in 1952, Jeffries initially attended Stanford University then transferred to the University of Oregon after determining he wanted to major in architecture.

The former high school sweethearts married in 1957 while Jeffries was still in school. He graduated from Oregon in 1959 and the couple settled in Santa Rosa.

Jeffries initially worked as a draftsman in Clarence Felciano’s architectural firm, became a partner and took over the business when Felciano retired. Jeffries sold the firm to partner Peter Witter in the early 1990s.

David Jeffries of Rohnert Park, said he was impressed by his father’s strong work ethic, leadership and civic involvement.

“He was always very proud of the work he did in the community,” Jeffries said.

In retirement, Schuyler Jeffries assisted other business people through SCORE, a nonprofit supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“He was a terrific role model,” his son said, adding that Jeffries was busy for years attending baseball, soccer and football games involving his three sons. The family went camping in the High Sierra every summer.

Schuyler Jeffries was a member of dozens of organizations, including the Rotary Club and Empire Breakfast Club.

In addition to his wife and son David, Jeffries is survived by two other sons, Steve Jeffries of Foster City and Scott Jeffries of San Carlos; a sister, Sue Brownell of Portland, Oregon; six grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.