Ryder Todd Smith’s Eulogy for Frank

Good morning. Thank you for being here on this somber occasion to recognize the man and legend that is Frank Giuseppi Tripepi.

As we stand here today, we are about six miles from where Frank spent most of his childhood in Norwalk. And while this distance is not far, Frank’s life and adventures traveled well beyond these six little miles.

Born in 1947 in Dearborn Michigan, Frank’s family moved west for opportunity in California. The post world war II boom was happening and we all know the population explosion that prompted in Los Angeles county. Frank’s parents, Frank senior and Ruth, were entrepreneurs and owned Italian restaurants and car washes. Frank’s sister Valentina was the little sister that Frank was charged with protecting and forever directing. Their family story was the idealized story of American small business people. They were a middle class family who worked hard and had success, enabling Frank to get a cool car and go cruising while rocking a serious pompadour. He even had a record player in his car.

The streets of Norwalk were sometimes rough. Frank would have to defend the car wash from criminal elements or sometimes have to engage in a scuffle to protect his sister’s honor. Frank, while not the tallest, was feisty and fearless. A wolverine of sorts. Something that served him well throughout his life.

It was in Norwalk where Frank at 17 first met fifteen and half year old Rhonda Reiley on the steps of Norwalk library in 1965. He took an immediate interest in her and they began dating. It was the start of a 57 year relationship, including fifty years of marriage.

Rhonda was absorbed into the Tripepi family world, spending time with Frank’s parents, working across the street from Cerritos College in the Italian Deli and generally enjoying her time with Ruth, Frank’s mom, learning to be Italian, purging that Irish out of her and working at the JC Penny warehouse.

Frank attended CSU Fullerton and graduated with a BA in political science. Like many men graduating college in 1969, Frank found himself drafted into the Army to battle communism in north Vietnam. He deployed to Vietnam and Cambodia and performed in Field Artillery Operations and was an Intelligence Assistant. It was fateful that Frank ended up in this role – it was Frank’s typing skills that got him a job operating the field artillery calculator used to lob munitions on the enemy. It also resulted in a brief office posting supporting a base commander with his typing skills.

Typing did not keep Frank from the fight. In 1971, while stationed at a gun tower, Frank was attacked, fell 45 feet, and suffered severe injuries. He made a long and difficult recovery, and for his heroic service, Frank was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Good Service Medal.

His loyal girlfriend Rhonda was there for him throughout, and their love resulted in marriage in 1971. Three years later, an angel was born – Nicole – and Frank and Rhonda’s lives were changed forever. Through nearly five decades of fatherhood, Frank loved and pushed his daughter. He showed up at dances, attended cheer performances and heavily investigated any boy she brought home.

As Frank reentered life at home after Vietnam, he took a job working for Jack Simpson in Hawaiian Gardens in 1971. So began Frank’s lifelong service to local government. He soon moved to Rosemead in 1972 and by 1974 found himself appointed city manager – a position he held for 28 years until 2002. As many would recognize in this room – surviving that many years in one city for a city manager is rare. Nevermind the fact that Frank was 28 when he got his first city manager job. Also, fun fact, the city was careening toward a cash flow issue when Frank first took the job on. It was a scramble.

Frank retired from the City in 2002 and moved to the private sector to become president of Willdan Financial, and later, Willdan’s senior vice president of business development. He also briefly returned to public service in 2008-2009, when he was the interim city manager for the City of La Puente. 

Those are the facts and the timeline of a man who led a big life. War hero. Public servant. Successful business executive. Family man. Loving grandfather.

But as we know there is much more to the man, and I want to offer a few comments about Frank, share some Frank wisdom and hopefully offer some levity to our circumstances here today.

My life crossed across Frank’s world in a unique way. I visited him at Rosemead city hall in the 90’s out of an interest in local government, i worked for his wife, Rhonda, at Olympic staffing services, I was a part of his family vacations, I lived with him and Rhonda for a while after college before I got my own apartment. As I got into the local government word, I hung out with him at conferences, shared fish lunches and went track racing with him. Work, family, history and hobby’s overlapped. I saw a lot of angles on the man. He was pretty committed to separating work life and family, so today I will risk the separation to talk about both his worlds.

Much of Frank’s success in life came from his desire to talk to and recognize anyone. Whether it was his humble beginnings, his military service, or just his personality Frank recognized that everyone had a role to play in society and he respected those roles. Just ask the bellmen at the Hyatt in Sacramento. Frank was a loyal Hyatt guy, but he also got to know the bellmen well at the Sacramento Hyatt. They knew his name, he knew their’s. Frank supported fundraising efforts for their families, offered generous tips and built rapport. He saw in them their potential and their impact and he respected their dedication to service. And they were not there to serve him, Frank was their partner in getting things done.

Frank’s influence was rooted in his ability to see potential in people – especially early in their careers – and invest in them. He met a young Karen Ogawa and helped her become a rockstar Finance Director. He mentored Jeff Stewart into an effective city manager. He took his Willdan Financial protege and helped him become the leader we know at Mark Risco. But even if you did not work for Frank, he would offer you ideas or advice to fix a problem or make a career move. He helped Mike Egan redirect a career away from sales and into city management. When he suggested Lomita interview Ryan Smoot so he could practice interviewing for city manager gigs, the Lomita Council fell hard for Ryan and he became the youngest city manager in LA county. Frank’s imprint, big or small, is on hundreds of careers in and out of local government.

Frank took his job seriously as a mentor, and he enjoyed the heck out of young people. And he was good at it. As one city manager described it:

He took care of a lot of folks during their climb. He always asked, he always listened. His style of mentoring and coaching was NOT “Here’s a stick of gum, kid.  Let me show you how to chew it.”  He was much more interested in hearing what you were working on and why. And, if he happened to mix in a cigar and a beverage, well then all the better. I’m gonna miss him terribly. 

This next statement may shock some of you, but Frank was a true feminist. He cared only about skills, attitude and loyalty… not gender. Frank had a strong history of mentoring and supporting women. Look no further than the love of his life – Rhonda – who he pushed to enroll in college and then pushed her to take the hardest classes and teachers to show her she could do it. Frank believed in Rhonda so she could believe in herself. Later, when Rhonda became a successful executive at Olympic Staffing services – effectively the chief operating officer – Frank never batted an eye when she brought home more money than him. He was proud of her success. Yes, Frank loved that Rhonda was a stay at home mom for Nicole when Nicole was young, but he loved that Rhonda also built a career as time allowed.

Frank exhibited the same enthusiasm for his daughter’s academic and career success. While Nicole had a significant scholarship to a solid college, she also had gained admission to a more rigorous institution with no scholarships. Frank urged her to take on the bigger challenge and make the most of her opportunity, despite the economics. I thank God he did since that meant she attended Claremont McKenna and I would get to meet her freshman year at orientation.

For Frank the world was binary between good and evil, right and wrong. Frank squarely placed himself on the side of good – and would use his power and physical strength when needed to effect change. Once while driving down a road in Rosemead, Frank witnessed a domestic altercation happening. His first move was not to call the police, but rather he physically intervened to shield the woman. It was not the only time Frank applied his physical strength to right a wrong, and rest assured that Frank was not afraid to intervene when immediate justice was required. It is also why some who knew him well referred to him as CMOP – City Manager On Patrol.

Frank valued loyalty. Consistent with his strong binary worldview – disloyalty landed you in Siberia with haste. Frank’s loyalty went both ways, and as a result one could easily find him advocating for and making calls on your behalf and plowing a pathway for an opportunity for you before you had even taken a shower in the morning.

Frank lacked patience. He wanted stuff to get done. He was a doer. This sometimes meant it upset an apple cart or four on his march toward achieving a goal. It sometimes meant hitting 110 miles per hour on the freeway. But the people he worked for loved the momentum he carried and the results he delivered. Frank’s willpower brought the Southern California Edison HQ to Rosemead. That forceful energy also brought one of the first Walmarts in LA County to Rosemead. It generated significant sales tax revenue that the city relies on to this day to fund major programs. Those are two of dozens of major legacies Frank left on the Rosemead community.

Respect for loyalty, appropropriate flexing of power and attempting to manage matters well beyond the average person’s reach earned Frank the title of Godfather in local government circles. He really loved that title, much as he loved the movies. He certainly did not shy away from his Italian heritage. Many local government professionals, facing a tough situation, would call upon Frank for advice. Or, if recently ejected from a position, Frank was quick to find them a place to recover or land an interim gig to bounce back for the next opportunity. He would make them an offer they could not refuse – and a generation of loyal friends was created.

Frank’s Godfather name and his work life persona made him appear aggressive or tough. I won’t deny that it is a part of his fabric, but only a part. I also knew Frank as a dad who would melt at his daughter’s commands and who would bend over backwards to entertain his granddaughter. Frank was a sucker for little white dogs. He had a dog named Fluffy. He loved our little dog Annie. Once Frank found a dog wandering a park in Walnut and tried to bring it home. It did not last – but the point is Frank had soft spots. His big heart was on his sleeve when it came to his family and the innocent.

At that intersection or work and family for me, I would sometimes have a city manager comment that being Frank’s son-in-law must be tough. My experience was not like that. As long as I was loyal to Nicole and she loved me and he had lots of access to his granddaughter, Frank was good with me. He was proud of what Nicole and I had built with his name on it. He loved me as the son he otherwise never had.

It was Frank’s world – and he helped me thrive in it. More globally, it was Frank’s world – and we are all the better for it.

I will conclude with a few things Frank taught me along the way in life:

  • Always sit in the corner of the room with your back to the wall so you can see who is coming into the room.
  • Minimize alcohol, especially at work functions.
  • Don’t smoke dope.
  • BMW’s are built like a tank and handle like a dream.
  • Don’t email or text on matters of significance, call.
  • Never let a city manager be surprised by something you knew and did not tell them.
  • Always dress one notch up from what you expect everyone will be wearing.
  • If you are not fifteen minutes early, you are late.
  • Show up. Stay out. The big decisions in local government happen after five PM.
  • French cuffs are the better choice. Double-windsors the gentleman’s knot.
  • Think beyond the borders of your existing world.
  • You can get away with 85 on most freeways. 100 if you still have a badge.

Thank you Frank. Thank you for my amazing wife. My incredible daughter. My awesome mother-in-law. For having an incredible network of friends and fans that have gathered here today to celebrate you. For the institutions that were created from nothing by your efforts and influence. For fighting against communism and continuing to love America even when it, at times, failed to love and respect you. And mostly, for the example you have set for a generation to be doers, to work everyday to improve communities and to battle through it all to do the right thing.