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Ex-Mayor George Wickham Dies at 89

Accomplished councilman and father of Capt. Jim Wickham died in his sleep last Monday.

George Wickham, a former mayor of Mill Valley and the father of Mill Valley Police Capt. Jim Wickham, died last Monday. He was 89.

Wickham died in his sleep at his home in Lake Wildwood, a private community in the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Penn Valley, California. He is survived by his three children: Stephanie, George Jr., and Jim, along with nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren, and the family will celebrate his life with private gatherings in Lake Wildwood and Marin.

"Your strength, equanimity, and unfaltering love will remain with us forever to help guide and comfort us in our daily lives," George Wickham's children write in a note to their late father. "We thank you for that."

George Wickham moved to Mill Valley from Fremont, Nebraska with his parents at a young age. His father built several homes on what is now known as Wickham Drive off of Melrose Avenue in Homestead Valley. Wickham met his wife Carolyne, who died 21 years ago, at .

He went on to become a naval pilot running reconnaissance out of Alaska during WWII, a graduate in civil engineering from UC Berkeley and working in construction and consulting jobs around the world, including stints surveying roads in Africa and building dams in Brazil.

In 1964, he was elected to the Mill Valley City Council at a time of tremendous political tumult in the Bay Area and across the United States, with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, post-McCarthyism and an assortment of progressive causes weighing heavily on the minds of local residents.

But Wickham was a self-described conservative, and according to files he kept that were recently discovered by Jim Wickham, he was often on the wrong end of 4-1 council votes.

Despite being in the minority politically on the council, Wickham was re-elected twice, a necessity back then if a councilmember wanted to be member, as mayors back then served two-year terms and were elected by the council. He served as mayor from 1970 to 1972.

"He wrote that there were strong divisions in town between liberals and conservatives, a wide range of beliefs and ideals," Jim Wickham said.

In his eight years of service, the council laid the groundwork for some of Mill Valley's hallmark institutions, and even rejected a project that would have dramatically changed the face of Mill Valley. The council rejected a proposal to build in the area what would eventually become Marine World, a giant water park that opened in the Redwood Shores area of Redwood City in 1966. The park relocated in 1986 to Vallejo.

Here are a few of the council's accomplishments during Wickham's tenure:

  • Trading property with the , allowing the city to build its current on district land and swapping it for city land that became the home of the .
  • In 1968, purchasing for $1 and relocating an old restaurant along Hwy. 101 to the current location of the to become the Mill Valley Rec Center. The new community center opened there in 2001.
  • Providing final approval for the construction of the senior community in 1972.
  • Approving the construction of a stoplight at the corner of East Blithedale Avenue and Camino Alto.
  • Approving the realignment of Oakdale Avenue to allow for the construction of in 1968.
  • The construction of the new , which opened in 1966.

Despite an impressive list of accomplishments, the council was not successful in all of its ventures. An effort to plant grass in shade-laden failed. Jim Wickham said his father took such things in stride.

"He was slowing down lately, but he still had great wit," said Jim Wickham, who was with his father on the weekend before he died. "And he always asked me how Mill Valley was doing and who the mayor was."    

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