Pasadenan John Van de Kamp, Former California Attorney General, L.A. County District Attorney, is Dead at 81

Leaves Behind a Decades-Long Legacy of Public Service

Published : Thursday, March 16, 2017 | 5:56 AM

John Van de Kamp, at left in a recent image and at right as a top Los Angeles County prosecutor.

Life-long Pasadenan John Van de Kamp, former California Attorney General and Los Angeles County District Attorney, died in his San Rafael Avenue home on Tuesday afternoon. He was 81.

Van de Kamp was a respected political figure throughout California for decades. He remained active in social causes and governmental affairs prior to his death.

Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said that Van de Kamp had been ill but that his passing was unexpected. He described Van de Kamp as a statesman who was dedicated to the welfare of Pasadena, California and the nation.

“When John Van de Kamp spoke, everyone listened,” said Geoffrey Baum, Van de Kamp’s neighbor and former fellow Board Member of the West Pasadena Residents Association.

“He was a kind and wise figure that was generous with his time and his guidance and he loved Pasadena. He was from Pasadena, he went to public school in Pasadena and spent much of his life continuing to serve our community,” Baum added.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey praised her predecessor on Wednesday.

“John Van de Kamp was one of the most ethical and kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. He was an admired public servant who dedicated his life to seeking justice,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.

“He cared deeply about the District Attorney’s Office. Among his lasting legacies was his devotion to helping victims of serious and violent crimes. As District Attorney, he established one of the nation’s first victim services programs. We, as an office, are indebted to him for his innovative and straight-forward leadership and his enduring sense of fairness.”

“On a personal note, I am thankful for John’s wisdom and gentle guidance throughout my tenure,” District Attorney Lacey said. “I frequently sought his advice and looked up to him as a stalwart of the justice system. Like many, I mourn his passing, and I will miss his wisdom, his wit and his kindness.”

Van de Kamp was appointed U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. He would go on to become a top prosecutor and ultimately become the Los Angeles County District Attorney and was the first federal public defender in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California from 1975 until 1981. He served as California’s Attorney General from 1983 until 1991.

Van de Kamp mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1990, losing in the Democratic primary to Dianne Feinstein.

Van de Kamp was born in 1936 and grew up in Pasadena where he attended John Muir High School.

In a 2015 verbal memoir of his almost-seven-decades-long residence in West Pasadena, Van de Kamp regaled the audience with his memories of the Pasadena he remembered from his youth.

“Pasadena has changed – mostly for the better. With diversity has come minority representation in our government, and a better sense of integration – and our lives have been enriched by it,” he said.

But Pasadena will inevitably continue to change – and as citizens we should fight to make the most of it,” Van de Kamp added.

According to LA Progressive, Van de Kamp was a longtime advocate of public schools and a member of the Pasadena Education Foundation and chaired the Task Force on Good Government in 2005 and 2006, which established to report on campaign finance reform and recommend ways to strengthen Measure B and prohibited city officials from taking contributions from those awarded public money and other benefits.

The following year Van de Kamp chaired the state Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which found California’s death penalty system was wasteful and “dysfunctional,” costing taxpayers $100 million a year to simply maintain the system without executing a single prisoner since 2006, and with only 13 death sentences carried out since 1978.

“He was a very stand up community man who cared,” said Civic Center Coalition member and former city employee Marsha Rood who explained that Van de Kamp played a big part in the fundraising efforts for the Pasadena Robinson Memorial.

“He was very deeply rooted in Pasadena and worked very hard to make it a wonderful city. [Van de Kamp] was very active in the West Pasadena Residents Association and he was just a fine man all around,” said Rood.

The Van de Kamp family is also well-known for its bakeries and Lawry’s Restaurants in Southern California.

Mayor Bogaard said, “The family intends to have a private service in the near future and to hold a celebration of his life sometime in April.”

Van de Kamp is survived by his wife Andrea and his daughter Diana.

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