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Mr. Novato Moves onto the Next Gig

Columnist: Bill Meagher
August, 2017 Issue
Columnist

Bill Meagher
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Every month I try to give a snapshot of the business of business in Marin, and most of the time I try to have some fun and illicit a smile or a laugh.

Maybe not so much this month. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that, “Every true story ends in death.”  This is a true story.

Marin lost an asset recently when Dietrich Stroh passed away at the age of 80. Calling Diet an asset is a nod to his business acumen and perhaps how an accountant might look at it on a balance sheet. When it came to numbers, few could match him.

Diet was a founding partner in CSW/Stuber-Stroh, the Novato-based civil engineering firm that seems to be listed on every important commercial and public project in Marin and the North Bay.  He headed up the Marin Municipal Water District during a drought that was so bad he figured out a way to hang a pipeline off the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to bring water to Marin.

He also sat on the Bank of Marin’s board, and his latest gig was as president of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District, a place with legendary political fissures and a budget in permanent need of TLC. It’s the kind of assignment that can be a nightmare and is seldom a position where you get much in the way of credit or gratitude. He served on the board for years.

I bought Diet breakfast not long ago, and he was like a kid with a new toy, going on about how the bridge board was a great mix of people who were going to solve problems, and how much fun it was going to be.

This is as good a place as any for a mini-confession. As a freelancer years ago, I covered the bridge district. It was full of controversy including the heartbreaking suicide issue, budget overruns and seismic projects that caused the district to go hat-in-hand to Washington regularly. Getting the straight story out of the district could be challenging, despite Mary Currie being a top notch public info officer. She only knew what they told her, and part of her job was minding the district’s image.

Diet became my secret source. I’d call him up and he would give me the company line. After listening a few minutes, I‘d say something like, “C’mon Diet, don’t bullshit me.”  A long pause would ensue, sometimes followed by some choice profanity.

He would then tell me the tale. And a story would appear that sometimes quoted a source within the bridge district.

Years later Diet and I worked together writing a book, Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing, a story about his losing his wife, Margaret, to cancer and how he cared for her. I was his ghostwriter and once weekly I trekked to San Marin, picked a topic and for an hour or so we talked. It was one part journalism, one part banter and a big dose of Tuesdays with Morrie. It almost didn’t happen; we were brought together by a mutual friend, Suzanne Dunwell. She called me and said there was a project, but I probably wasn’t the right guy for it. It required sensitivity and frankly I could be arrogant and difficult.

She had a point. But I’d lost my dad a few months earlier and argued I was just right for the assignment. As it turned out she didn’t know that Diet and I had history.

We had two rules for the project: we could say anything in that room, and nobody got to make fun of anybody for crying. In the end, Diet insisted I get author credit despite our contract saying I was a ghost—I argued against it. “Oh bullshit,” he said. “This is our book. I want your name on it.”

Stroh loved Novato and championed the Novato Theater restoration. He was past president of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, served as a director for the Novato Human Needs Center and was on the board of the Novato Fire Protection District.

The above is a short list of his efforts, but doesn’t capture his heart. Diet didn’t make a dime for those efforts and spent time away from his family and his business to better the place where he lived because he cared.

Diet was a vanishing breed. He was a consensus builder in a society where people are more comfortable insulating themselves. He saw two sides, found middle ground and moved folks toward it, sometimes without them seeing it.

His family has lost its patriarch. His wife, Dawna, has lost her partner. Novato has lost its biggest fan.

And I have lost a source, a partner in crime, a mentor and most painfully, a good friend.

 

 

 

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