In memoriam: Jack Fenton, Augustus Hawkins

Augustus “Gus” Hawkins
Augustus Freeman Hawkins, the first African American to serve in the California congressional delegation after spending  nearly three decades in the state Assembly, died Nov. 10 in Maryland. He was 100, and at the time of his death he was the oldest living former member of the House.

Hawkins, known since his youth as “Gus, ”was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Aug. 31, 1907, moved with his family to Los Angeles while a youngster. He attended high school in Los Angeles, and graduated with a B.A. degree from UCLA in 1931. Four years later, he was elected to the state Assembly, and stayed there until the early 1960s. In November 1962, Hawkins was elected to Congress, becoming the first black representative from any western state.

He is credited with playing a major role in the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Hawkins was perhaps best known for authoring the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, also known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. According to the African American Registry, Hawkins also succeeded in restoring an honorable discharge for the 167 black soldiers in the Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army who were booted out of the service after being falsely accused of a public disturbance in Brownsville, Texas in 1906.

Hawkins was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and served as chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. He retired in 1991 after serving 28 years in the House.

Ed Soria
Ed Soria, the Broadcast Services Director for the Assembly Republican Caucus, died Saturday of a heart attack while running a 5K race in Davis. He was 40.

His wife, Deanna, and his son, Andrew, were also in the race.

Soria had worked for the Caucus since March 2007. Before that, he spent 11 years as a photographer for PACSAT. “Ed will be remembered as an extremely hard-working colleague and a fun person to be around,” read a statement from the Assembly Republican Caucus said.

Services will be held Friday, Nov. 23, at 11:30 a.m. at Chapel of the Hills in Auburn, 1331 Lincoln Way. For further information, contact: 530-885-3773.

A memorial fund is being set up for the family. Contact Dan Billings at 916-606-5443 for more information.  

Jack R. Fenton
Jack Fenton, a Democratic Assembly leader with shrewd political instincts, a powerful temper and a blunt-spoken demeanor who spearheaded laws to improve the health and safety of workers, died Nov. 6 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 91.

Fenton, who represented a Montebello district for 14 years in the Assembly, was known for conducting legislative hearings into the Sylmar tunnel explosion that killed 17 workers. The result of the hearings prompted major legislation to protect workers – legislation that carried his imprint.

The victims had been working in the tunnel for the state Water Project when a powerful blast rocked the tunnel.

Richard Hayden, a Republican who served in the Assembly from 1970 to 1980, told the Los Angeles Times that Fenton “was a Democratic leader, but in many ways he was nonpartisan. The interest of the people of California was foremost in his mind. Jack was interested in any kind of legislation that had to do with … the welfare of individuals,” Hayden said.

Fenton was born Aug. 7, 1916, in Rochester, N.Y., to Lithuanian immigrants. He graduated from the State Teacher’s College at Brockport, and went to UC Berkeley the following year. He served in the Army during World War II, and after the war he went to Loyola Law School. He graduated in 1949.

He is survived by son Mark Fenton and his wife Kathleen, daughter Marilyn Fenton and her child Jacqueline, daughter Melissa Fenton, her husband Robert Stern and their children Ryan, Rebecca and Alexis Stern, and son-in-law Terry Hansen. Jack was predeceased by his wife of 58 years, Betty Byer Fenton and his daughter, Maureen Fenton-Hansen.

In 1964 Fenton ran for an Assembly seat in the 59th District and won. Subsequent campaigns were sometimes easy in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which he served until the late 1970s.

When he left the Assembly, more than 1,000 people gathered to pay tribute to him, lauding him as a “true friend.” One speaker, the L.A Times, reported, called him “the only man I know in Sacramento who keeps his word.”

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