When Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Way of Ventura County in August, U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, said, “When I think of Ventura County, I think of Hank Lacayo, and when I think of our country, I think of Hank Lacayo.”
There is little we can add to the accolades and memories of Lacayo that have flowed since he died May 1 at the age of 85 at his Newbury Park home after battles with throat cancer and heart disease.
We can only agree with Rep. Brownley, mourn the loss that so many of us feel, and again share some of his many accomplishments in the hope that they will continue to inspire new generations of leaders focused on public service, political activism, philanthropy and equal opportunity.
Born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents — his mother from Mexico, his father from Nicaragua — Lacayo joined the Air Force after high school and never stopped serving his fellow Americans. He went to work as a tool grinder for North American Aviation in Los Angeles, helped organize workers there for the United Auto Workers, became president of the union local and then moved to Michigan and served as a top leader at UAW headquarters.
He became the union’s national political and legislative director; advised Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on labor issues; and helped Tom Bradley get elected as mayor of Los Angeles in 1973 (meeting Leah, his wife of 44 years, during the campaign).
Lacayo retired from the UAW in 1986 and moved back to California, but his work was far from over. He served as chairman of the Ventura County Democratic Party and on many other state and county boards and committees, counseled scores of political leaders (including Brownley and former Republican congressman Elton Gallegly) and worked on many issues. “Causes near and dear to Hank included immigration rights, voter education, senior advocacy and elder abuse, veteran’s rights, women’s rights, philanthropy and political activism,” his obituary says.
He founded the Lacayo Institute for Workforce and Community Studies at CSU Channel Islands and received an honorary doctorate from the university. He volunteered and served on the boards of United Way, the Ventura County Community Foundation, El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, the Red Cross and the CSUCI Foundation, among others.
“Even when he was ill, he would be in Sacramento advocating for seniors,” Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, told The Star. “He was worried about kids. He was worried about education. He was a Renaissance man in that way. He made such a huge impact in so many ways.”
We will miss you, Hank Lacayo. But the bounty of your tireless years of public service will be with us for many decades to come.