Judge William Newsom, father of the Governor-elect, dies

Editor’s note: RIP, Judge Newsom, a longtime resident of Dutch Flat, and a wonderful man!

“Retired Appeals Court Judge William Newsom, a relic of San Francisco’s old Catholic school guard, and the father of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, died Wednesday morning at his home in Pacific Heights. He was 84,’ as The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting.

“His death was confirmed by Nathan Click, spokesperson for Gavin Newsom. Cause of death was not given but the elder Newsom suffered from chronic illness over the last several years and had taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks.

“In his honor, flags at the state capitol were ordered to be flown at half mast, by Newsom’s old friend, Gov. Jerry Brown. Newsom had been an environmental lawyer in the 1970s when Brown, serving his first stint as governor, appointed him to the judiciary.

“’Anne and I extend our deepest condolences to the entire Newsom family,’ the governor said in a statement. ‘Bill was a longtime friend, a champion of the environment and someone whom I was proud to appoint to the superior court and court of appeal.’

“William Alfred Newsom III was born Feb. 15, 1934 in San Francisco and raised in the Marina District. His grandfather had opened the first neighborhood branch of the Bank of America, in the Mission District in 1929, and his father was a building contractor.

“Newsom was raised in the Jesuit tradition, and attended St. Ignatius College Prep at the old campus on Turk Street, where his classmate was Gordon Getty, with Brown a few years behind. Newsom’s father had managed the first two political campaigns of Brown’s father, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. And Getty, whose parents were divorced, moved into the Newsom household. Both those connections were to prove helpful to him.

“As was tradition with the Catholics back then, Newsom crossed the street from his high school to attend the University of San Francisco, along with his pal Getty. After earning his B.A. in French literature, Newsom attended law school at Stanford University, while also earning a master’s degree in English literature. His first plan was to be an English teacher but it did not stick.

“’I changed my mind and said, ‘I’m getting too old. I’ve got to do something to make a few dollars.’ So I went into law,’ Newsom said according to a transcript of the California Appellate Court Legacy Project.

“He took a job at the State Supreme Court, and started polishing his quips. When later asked about his work there he suggested that some of the justices did not mind a drink here and there.

“’Sometimes I’d be asked to work on a case and other times to pick up a case,’ he told The Chronicle in 1982.

“In 1967, after spending a few years in Rome, working for a subsidiary of Getty Oil, Newsom announced his return to San Francisco by running for the Board of Supervisors. When that failed, he moved to Squaw Valley and opened a solo law practice in Tahoe City. He was early on in his dedication to protection of the environment in general and mountain lions in specific.

“This caught the attention of Jerry Brown, who in 1975 became govenor. Newsom never minded making light of his friend’s one-time pursuit of the priesthood.

“’He was a little younger; but he went into the Jesuit order,’ Newsom once said. ‘I became convinced that I didn’t want to be a Jesuit partly as a result of knowing Jerry.’

“Brown got back at Newsom upon appointing him to the Placer County Superior Court, by describing him as ‘my token Irish Catholic.’

“Three years later Brown elevated Newsom to the Court of Appeal, the state’s second highest court. Newsom was only 44 and right away he made headlines by advocating for the decriminalization of narcotics users.

“’Our laws are a travesty and there isn’t any hope of them working,’ Newsom said, perhaps seeing into the future. ‘You will never stop people from importing and selling heroin.’

“By 1982, Newsom, called ‘Billy’ in the Irish bars, was considering a run for the mayorship of San Francisco.

“NewsAudit cites flaws in costly California bullet train project
‘Politics. It’s the Irish malady,’ he told The Chronicle’s Jerry Carroll, in an interview conducted over lunch at the Washington Square Bar & Grill.

“When that failed, he turned to his old friend Getty, and became administrator to the Getty Trust.

“Newsom’s marriage to Tessa Thomas, in 1966, ended in divorce after six years. When asked years later about his romantic life, Newsom said, ‘It’s kind of an odd thing to say, but I’m still going rather steadily with my ex-wife. It was a very amiable divorce. Neither of us remarried, and in my case it’s not likely.’

“Newsom lived out his years at a house on Fillmore and Pacific. For half a century or more, he was a regular at Sam’s Grill, meeting for lunch or dinner with Gordon Getty, and local businessman George Miller.

“’One thing I loved about Judge Newsom is that he was a Renaissance man,’ said John Briscoe, owner of Sam’s. ‘He had a command of literature and history, as well as the law. He was also a masterful political player. I admired him greatly.’

“Newsom was predeceased by his ex-wife, Tessa. Survivors include his son, Gavin Newsom, and daughter, Hillary Newsom Callan, both of Kentfield.

“Services are pending.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

One thought on “Judge William Newsom, father of the Governor-elect, dies”

  1. I used to play music at the Monta Vista Inn in Dutch Flat and Judge Newsom used to come in for dinner with his family and friends. He always found a little time to talk with me about the songs I played.
    Very nice man loved and respected by everyone.

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