Photos from Alive! archives and courtesy dept. social media and LA County Commissioner Janice Hahn
Tom LaBonge – native-born retired City employee, Councilman, civic champion, husband and father, Club Member and “Mr. LA” – died Jan. 7 at his home in Silver Lake. He was 67.
Tom was just about everyone’s favorite retired City employee, as there was no greater booster of his beloved hometown. He knew every street in his district and most every street in the giant City. He knew its people. He knew its history, both the formal history in the books written about LA, and the details too small to be remembered by anyone else but him.
An avid Club Member and one of the most supportive believers in the Club’s mission of celebrating the lives of City employees, he was featured on the cover of Alive! twice, once when he was City Councilman for the Fourth District, and once as he was retiring due to term limits.
His range of service to the City of LA goes from foundational accomplishments including expanding his beloved Griffith Park and revitalizing Hollywood and Silver Lake, to countless small actions like trimming trees and picking up trash whenever he saw the need, using the traffic cones he often kept in his car trunk for safety. He loved to photograph his LA, using his striking photos in yearly calendars, and gifting hundreds of loaves of bread every Christmas to constituents.
His oft-repeated phrase – “Let’s continue to enjoy and love the great City of Los Angeles” – exemplified his cheerleading spirit and was the driving passion of his professional life. A big part of Los Angeles passes away with him.
The Club is heartbroken over Tom’s sudden death, and sends its deepest condolences to his family and countless friends.
He is survived by his wife, graphic designer Brigid Manning LaBonge, and two adult children, Mary-Cate and Charles.
Upon the sad news of his death, nearly every major City department posted on social media to honor his life and memory. On these pages we recount his biography, his many appearances in Alive!, and tributes by Club leadership and others.
May you rest in peace, Tom.
Tom LaBonge Memorial Fund
The LA Parks Foundation has set up a memorial fund in Tom’s memory to establish a memorial site and plant new trees in Griffith Park. Tom hiked in Griffith Park nearly every day.
Thomas J. LaBonge (1953-2021) served in several civilian City positions before being elected to represent the City Council’s Fourth District in 2001.
In 1974, he joined Mayor Tom Bradley’s Youth Council. In 1976, at 22, be became an aide to Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson in the 13th District. He joined Council President John Ferrara’ office in the Fourth District in 1978. He was also the Chief of Field Operations for Mayor Richard Riordan.
He ran for City Council in 1993 but lost to Jackie Goldberg. He then worked for the DWP. In 2001, he ran for the Fourth District seat in a special election after Ferraro’s death, and won.
Tom served the City for nearly 50 years until his retirement in 2015 due to term limits.
Tom LaBonge. Councilman. Mr. LA. He was a beacon of love and pride for the City and the people of Los Angeles.
Nothing could be closer to that truth than in 2008 when the Employees Club lost staff member Howard Pompel in the Chatsworth Metrolink train accident, which also took an additional 24 lives on that tragic day. The next day, Club CEO John Hawkins called for an all-staff meeting and closed our offices from the public for the day to allow staff to grieve the loss of our coworker.
We were at the Club Store when I heard a booming series of knocks on the closed door. We turned our heads to look, and I saw a man standing at the glass door with a wreath and easel that towered over and in front of him. It was immense, and it wasn’t until I came to the door and let him in that I grasped that the man was Tom – he came alone. He asked, “May I come in and leave this with you all?” He also expressed a few words of condolence and support, and it was expressed as if he were a longtime staff member we all knew – that’s how we felt. His parting words that day were that he was just a few blocks away at City Hall if anyone needed anything from him.
Tom was a class act onto his own, demonstrating a unique form of politician (leaning more toward an ambassador of the City) bursting with a profound empathy for others. We thank Tom for his dedication and service, as well as the countless lives he touched. May he rest in peace.
– Robert Larios, Club Chief Operating Officer
In 2014, @laplphotos & Photo Friends were fundraising to digitize the Valley Times image archive. Tom LaBonge let us transform his Sherman Oaks field office into a Valley Times gallery space. He didn’t hesitate in saying “yes.” Here we are at the opening reception. #RIPTomLaBonge
– Christina Rice, Los Angeles Public Library
We are all sad to hear of Tom LaBonge’s passing. It’s difficult to think of anyone who loved Los Angeles more than he did. We appreciate all of his service to the City and its residents, and are grateful for his participation in leading LACERS Well events. He will be missed.
– Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS)
Someone asked me a while back who I consider my heroes. I had to think … and my only response was that, other than my parents, I really didn’t have any. But that was before I met Tom LaBonge. That was before I had the rare pleasure to see Tom in action, to see him literally live and breathe the City he loved.
Tom was an icon – almost a mirage in some respects, in that it was hard to believe that someone could always be, no matter the situation or environment, the same person they always were; that someone could always be strong, affable, kind, generous, genuine, filled with unlimited energy, and gifted with laser-like intelligence.
It all started about 15 years ago. My trusty Chief Editor, John Burnes, put a call in to Carolyn Ramsay at Tom’s office so we could interview him – he was a City legend and a Club Member. We no more than set up the camera and voice recorder in his Council office when all heck broke loose. Turns out there was a fire somewhere along Wilshire in his district, and nothing got in the way of Tom serving his constituents. Of course, we offered to reschedule. No! he replied. Hop in! We grabbed everything, jammed into his official car, and white-knuckled it while he drove to the fire. I’ll never forget how he threw himself into that scene, talking to maybe hundreds of his constituents to make sure they were all right, coordinating with the LAFD and LAPD, who he knew by their first names, and on and on. I’d never seen anybody serve the City like that.
So there you have it – I had my hero, a man bigger than life, a man who “was” life, in every way imaginable. Tom will always be alive in my mind. Someone like that doesn’t ever just disappear, they are always with you, always rooting for Los Angeles, always whispering in my ear all the good things happening around our sprawling megatropolis. I offer no “goodbyes,” no “see you on the other side,” no tears, because Tom is still here. He is the embodiment of everything good in Los Angeles, and will be forever.
— John Hawkins, Club CEO
L.A. is mourning the loss of two remarkable ambassadors for our city, @Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda and former L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge.
We’ve lit City Hall in their honor as we remember them tonight. Rest in peace.
Our hearts are heavy with the passing of former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge. In a City of 4 million Angelenos, Tom LaBonge was Mr. Los Angeles. He was a true public servant who was never afraid to roll up his sleeves or pull a City worker over if a constituent needed help or a street needed servicing at a moment’s notice. As a Councilmember, he took care of his constituents and was a champion of one of L.A.’s greatest treasures, Griffith Park. Tom LaBonge loved Los Angeles and Los Angeles loved him right back. To quote Tom, he is forever an angel in the City of Angels. May God bless him, his wife, Brigid, and the entire LaBonge family.
– Mayor Eric Garcetti and Nury Martinez, President of the City Council
The ten years I spent with Tom LaBonge on the City Council were the best political years of my life. We sat next to each other in the Council Chambers, and Tom just had a way of making everything fun. He was so excited to show up to work every day, and his enthusiasm was contagious.
Nobody loved this City more than Tom LaBonge, and I don’t know if anyone ever will. He was and will always be Mr. Los Angeles. May my dear friend Rest In Peace.
– Janice Hahn, Commissioner, Los Angeles County, Former Councilwoman, City of Los Angeles, Club Member
Tom was a true park advocate and Griffith Park’s number one fan. All of us here at the Dept. of Recreation and Parks send our condolences to the friends and loved ones of Tom. He will be truly missed. #ParkProudLA
– Rec and Parks
The City should name one of Griffith Park’s iconic locations for Tom LaBonge, who loved the park and the people who cherish it.
– Mike Feuer, LA City Attorney
A wonderful memory from Retired LAFD Chief and icon, Joe Castro, who just shared this with me, from the archives. Tom, your first responders miss you and ask that you look out for us from above.
– Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala, LAPD
May you rest in peace, Tom.