The Man Had A Vision for His City and That Vision Saved Monrovia
By Susan Motander
Former Monrovia Mayor Bob Bartlett died on Sunday night. He was the driving force behind the renaissance of the city of Monrovia, his hometown. His passing leaves a great void.
By 1974, the city of Monrovia was dying. West Huntington Drive was populated with used car lots and East Huntington Drive was home to the notorious biker gang the Rising Sons and the equally notorious Airport Liquor Store. When JCPenny’s left and the local businesses like Art’s Yardage closed their doors, the downtown seemed doomed.
It was at that point that three novice politicians came on the scene. Local attorney Eric Faith, local parent Pat Ostrye, and trucking executive and hometown kid Bob Bartlett banded together to form “The Slate.” They ran together with the idea of turning the city around. And they did just that.
Years later at his retirement celebration, Bartlett told the story of “The Slate” creating the plan for the renaissance of the city on the back of an empty pizza box. The plan worked because of the unique talents of the three and especially because of their continued dedication and their intelligent use of redevelopment. It is a shame no one saved that historic pizza box.
Faith, Ostrye, and Bartlett all served terms as mayor when the position was selected from among its members. After serving together for several years, Pat went on to become the City Treasurer and Eric returned to work on the Planning Commission, but Bob remained on the Council. Eventually the city changed to a directly elected mayor and Bob was elected to that position in 1988 and he was regularly reelected through 2001. During those years Bob honed his skills and worked tirelessly for his hometown.
Bob was born in Pasadena on Nov. 5, 1937, the son of Ray Bartlett and Mary Gabbury Bartlett Carr. He was raised in Monrovia and attended local schools, first Huntington Elementary, then Clifton Junior High, and finally Monrovia-Duarte High School. In high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a star athlete in both football and basketball. Monrovia City Treasurer and City Historian Steve Baker remembers him in those days “triumphantly charging down the football field at Monrovia-Duarte High School, leading the team to victory.”
He continued his education at Pasadena City College before entering the work force first at Aerojet General and then in the trucking industry. Bob finished his baccalaureate degree at Cal State Los Angeles. It was in the trucking industry that Bob first made a name for himself. He worked first for PIE trucking, and then through its merger with Ryder to become PIE-Ryder. He became the first African-American executive on the national level in the trucking industry, according to his brother Darrell Carr.
It was at that point that he turned his attention toward politics, but politics to benefit his hometown. As his colleage and protégé Lara Laramendi recalled, “With everything he did and with all his accomplishments, his focus was always on Monrovia.”
And there were many accomplishments. He was the first African-American elected to the Monrovia City Council and its first African-American mayor. He was the president of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), and of the League of California Cities. He also helped to found the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SVCOG).
He served on the Board of the National League of Cities and was an integral part of that group’s Transportation Infrastructure Committee. He had a major role in the development of the Foothill Transit Zone and served as Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s alternate on the Metrolink Board. He worked tirelessly to develop the heavy rail lines of the Alameda Corridor and to bring light rail through the San Gabriel Valley.
Part of Bob’s success was his ability to build consensus and to encourage the personal development of those who worked with and for him. As Monrovia’s former City Manager Don Hopper wrote, “We were all so fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very good-hearted people who saw in Bob a trusted leader who brought people together and forged partnerships to accomplish more than most cities could have ever imagined.”
He was also renowned for his ability to develop the best in those with whom he worked and he was not afraid to make controversial decisions when he felt they were most beneficial. As Lara Blakely recalled, “he was often criticized for appointing women to key committees in both the SCAG and California League. Bob would just reply ‘the girls will get the work done.’ He knew that the women he worked with actually want to accomplish something, not just hold a title.”
But with all of these regional and national activities, Bob never neglected his hometown. He served on the Board of Governors of his church, Bethel A.M.E. in Monrovia and on the Board of Directors of the Foothill Unity Center, even serving as that group’s president. He was honored by the Unity Center with its highest accolade, the Heart in Hand Humanitarian Award.
Services for the former mayor will be held on Friday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. at the United Methodist Church in Monrovia, 140 East Palm Avenue in Monrovia.
Bob Bartlett was preceded in death by his father, Ray Bartlett Sr.; his mother, Mary L. Carr, and his step-father Russell F. Carr; his brother, Jeffry Carr and his nephew Justin E. Carr, and his wife, Katie.
Bob is survived by his children: Laurie Bartlett and her good friend Mike Clayborn, Robbie and his wife Diana Nichols Bartlett, Thursday Bartlett Herdman and her husband Tom, and Roby Bartlett and Aria Bartlett. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Coco Bartlett, Quinn Kajtar, and Jackie, Jake, and David Herdman.
He is also remembered by his brothers Ray Bartlett Jr.; Russell and his wife Stephanie Simmons Carr; his brother Darrell and his wife Susan Toler Carr, and his sister, Carolyn Carr Harris and her husband Rudy. He is also survived by his nieces, Diana Carr and her husband Randy Brown, Michele Carr, and nephews, Jason Harris and his wife Jan Ragland, Brandon, Bryan and Michael Harris as well as his grandnieces Jianna Jasmine Harris and Hannah Brown.
But most importantly he is survived by his legacy all around the city he loved: the Huntington Oaks shopping center, the revitalized Myrtle Avenue, the Hi-Tech corridor along Huntington Drive. Home Depot came to Monrovia because of his efforts. He led the campaign to bring a Trader Joe’s store to Monrovia with the mailing of 15,000 postcards to their corporate headquarters and then having them bring that headquarters to Monrovia even more their store opened in town. He even led the campaign to bring the designation of “All-America City” to the town.
And he will not be forgotten.
Tributes continue to pour in for Bob Bartlett, Mr. Monrovia, Mayor Bob.
-Former Monrovia Mayor and regular Member of the Planning Commission and one third of The Slate, Eric Faith: “If anyone could be dubbed Mr. Monrovia, that person was Bob Bartlett. He would have loved to receive that title. It was my pleasure and honor to serve on the city council with Bob for eight years–a time when Monrovia’s climb from the doldrums was planned and started to be implemented. Bob was the perfect small city mayor, able to achieve consensus on every aspect of Monrovia’s redevelopment and growth into a true All America city. His friendship with Marty (Eric’s wife and then a member of the Board of Education) helped move the city and school district from distrust and rivalry into cooperation and mutual respect.
“Bob’s legacy can be found throughout Monrovia: from long-promised sidewalks to the Huntington Oaks shopping center which could not have been built without a grant which Bob obtained by playing politics with the federal government. Bob’s skill at the political game carried him to the presidency of the League of California Cities, which provided Bob with the opportunity to influence statewide issues.
“Bob was a wonderful colleague and client. However, it is the friendship that we had that I value the most.”
-Former Monrovia Mayor and Former City Treasurer and one third of The Slate, Pat Ostrye: “This is the passing of a great one. He was such a great guy. We did so much together.”
-City Historian and City Treasurer Steve Baker: “I have admired Bob Bartlett for nearly sixty years, first as an outstanding football player at Monrovia-Duarte High School and later as part of the triumvirate that tackled headlong the City of Monrovia’s stagnation and decline after their election in 1974. To Bob, as well as to Pat Ostrye and Eric Faith, goes the credit for spearheading the efforts that changed the course of Monrovia’s history. The vibrant community he leaves behind is the most fitting monument to his vision and service. I will always remember him as I see him now in my mind’s eye, triumphantly charging down the football field at Monrovia-Duarte High School, leading the team to victory.”
-Former City Manager under Bob Bartlett, Bud Ovrom: “Monrovia would not be the wonderful town it is today had it not been the transitional leadership of Bob Bartlett. It was Bob Bartlett as Mayor, joined by Pat Ostrye and Eric Faith, who provided the critical leadership to turn the city around from decline it was in prior to their election.
“All of us who had the privilege to serve as City Manager during that exciting time of dramatic change knew that the real leadership came from the top. No City has been better served by outstanding political leadership than Monrovia was by Bob Bartlett.”
– Former City Manager under Bob Bartlett, Jim Starbird: “Bob, Pat, Eric and Bud that created the vision for Monrovia’s renewal. I have often referred to Bob Bartlett as one of the most effective local elected officials I had the honor of working with in my 40 years in local government. He had great people skills that combined with his strength of confidence to make him a tremendously effective leader and advocate. Most importantly, he really loved Monrovia.”
-Former City Manager under Bob Bartlett, Don Hopper: “In thinking about Bob’s tenure and his love for this city it reminds me that he had such a special confident but disarming way with people …. exciting things happen when good people have great leadership … we were all so fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very good hearted people who saw in Bob a trusted leader who brought people together and forged partnerships to accomplish more than most cities could have ever imagined … .”
-Current Monrovia Mayor Tom Adams: “Monrovia has lost another of its greats. Bob definitely left his mark on Monrovia and left it in much better condition than he found it. Every day as I drive around town I see Bob’s mark. He will be sorely missed but I take comfort in knowing that his suffering is over, he is in a better place.”
-Former Member of the Board of Education and Campaign Manager for Bob Bartlett, Betty Sanford: “He was the best mayor we ever head. He knew what needed to be done and he did it.”
-Former Monrovia City Clerk, Former Member of the Board of Education Linda Proctor: “A gentle giant, with a heart of gold, a deep sense of community, with endless visions for the betterment of all. My Bob Bartlett … .”
-Monrovia Business Woman and regular Member of the Mayor’s Old Town Advisory Board Pam Fitzpatrick: “Bob Bartlett was the one who taught me I could make a difference. He’s the reason I attend ever single city council meeting. It breaks my heart that he is gone. Bob was the backbone of why we are what we are. We who are still here are building on the foundation laid.”
-Assembly Member Chris Holden (Pasadena): “Former Monrovia Mayor Bob Bartlett served the people of Monrovia well and faithfully for almost 30 years on the City Council and as Mayor. His vision for Monrovia and his dedication were unmatched. His legacy is not only the community he leaves behind, but the people he mentored. He will be missed.”
-Former Monrovia Mayor Lara Larramendi: “Bob’s political wisdom and ability to get things done began Monrovia’s transformation back in 1974 as part of the new leadership in the City. Eventually, Mayor Bob, former Mayor Eric Faith and former Mayor Patricia Ostrye and super commissioner Mimi Mency, laid the groundwork for a young kid like me to work hard and continue their/our work to make Monrovia a great place to live, work and visit.
“Many times during our tenure together on the Monrovia City Council, Bob as Mayor and I as his Mayor Pro Tem (or councilmember), we went to meetings together. I often went, not so much as to be an active participant, but to observe and learn his strategies, tactics and how he interacted at these meetings. Learning from Bob served me well. I have used what I learned from him to work on language for legislation and throughout my life, political and otherwise.
“Bob, that great font of wisdom, his insights, his ‘works well with others’ attitude, and all of the fun and crazy stuff that we did together for Monrovia, that can’t be taken away from us. Bob from one of your ‘main squeezes,’ I will always love you.”
-Former Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz: “Bob the Statesman – Bob Bartlett’s leadership to our community is unmatched. He led through consensus-building and was a visionary who brought out the best of our community. Bob always understood Monrovia is not an island and we need to collaborate with other communities, regional, statewide and nationally to make our community strong. We can see Bob’s hand in our transportation projects, Foothill Transit and The Gold Line. Bob was part of the team that brought The Redevelopment Agency to Monrovia and it profoundly changed our community for the better. Bob understood that to improve our community you needed to balance businesses, retail and residential housing. I found that in my travels as mayor of Monrovia I could be in another region or even another state and someone would say, I remember your former Mayor Bob Bartlett.
“He was looked upon as a leader, highly respected and admired. He served on many regional, state and federal boards and commissions representing Monrovia. And he represented extremely well! Bob was a community leader who always remembered the community. He led the All-America City delegation, volunteered and was Board Member for the Foothill Unity Center and a leader at his church, Bethel AME.
“Bob the Mentor and Friend – Bob was the first person in Monrovia to encourage me to join and be an active member of the city family. He sought me out to apply for a position at the Community Media of the Foothills (KGEM) Board in the mid-1990s. Bob appointed me to the Community Services Commission and he along with Council Member Mary Wilcox was the first people who encouraged me to consider a position as a City Council Member. As a mentor I watched Bob. As Mayor I strived to emulate his collaborative style. He and I would have conversations when I was elected Mayor about city concerns. He would offer suggestions and advice. There were many times I would wonder what would Bob do and then ask his advice. He was always open and willing to provide any assistance to better serve the city that he loved. I could, as could many, count on Bob to be in my corner as a friend. There were times he didn’t know who to confide in when he needed advice or assistance and I will always remember and be privileged that he did seek me out once or twice. It was a great honor to be his friend. When Bob won the Iris Award I was honored to be the one to present it to him.”