Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Neighbors Remember Tom LaBonge – “A True Son of Los Angeles”

Tom LaBonge doing what he loved to do best – leading a tour of his beloved district. Photo provided by Chris Devlin, Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce

Along with friends and neighbors across the city, we were deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of former City Council Member Tom LaBonge at his Silverlake home last night.  LaBonge was known far and wide, and most especially in his own Fourth District, as someone who loved Los Angeles truly, widely, and deeply…like no other.

To those who knew him, it often seemed as if Tom knew almost everyone in and everything about the area – and even if you had only met him once or twice, there was a good chance he’d remember your name, and your previous meeting, if you ever ran into him again. So instead of trying to sum up his spirit and his influence ourselves, we asked our readers, friends and neighbors – who knew him for decades –  for their stories.  Their words add up to a profile of a presence the likes of which we’ll never see again…and without which we will all be poorer.

(And for even more remembrances, from far and wide, see this thread on Twitter today.)


Nithya Raman – City Council Member, District 4

Councilmember Tom LaBonge was a true son of Los Angeles. A native Angeleno with a deep and abiding love for his city, he served LA faithfully and tirelesslessly for 39 years in various capacities at City Hall, culminating in his 15 years as a City Councilmember serving District 4.

Every single one of my neighbors in Silver Lake has a story about how Tom personally resolved an issue they were facing in their community. That’s the kind of person he was.

He would drive the district regularly, talk to his constituents, and whenever possible attempt to solve their problems personally and on the spot. The example he set in running his office leading with his sincere love for the city and his love for Angelenos is one I’ve taken to heart and one that my office hopes to emulate as we move forward.

I was so fortunate to have Tom as a Councilmember and, in the weeks since my election, a friend. He dropped by my home after the election to offer his congratulations and a loaf of pumpkin bread baked by nuns at the Monastery of the Angels, and then again in the following weeks to chat at a distance and answer whatever questions I had.

He played the same role in my life as he did as a Councilmember: always available, infinitely generous, a bolt of sunshine when you least expected it.

Councilmember LaBonge embodied the spirit of LA like few others, and he left so much of himself in its fabric. My heart goes out to his wife Brigid, his family, and the community that cherished his presence in their lives as I did.


David Ryu – Former City Council Member

CouncilMembers Tom LaBonge and David Ryu at City Hall in May 2019

Los Angeles has lost one of its brightest stars as we mourn the passing of my predecessor and great Councilmember of the Fourth District – TOM LABONGE.

Tom was one of a kind and a true LA son, who exuded LA love and LA pride.

From his Monastery of the Angels pumpkin bread to his spiraling pigskin in Griffith Park- his love for Los Angeles, Angelenos, and in particular the Fourth District was undeniable.

His intimate knowledge of every landmark and origin story of basically everything and everyone was downright mesmerizing. He could hypnotize you for hours with factoids and the back story of every tree, trail, sculpture or building.

There will never be anyone else like him.

A consummate storyteller, cheerleader, and guide – he was, and forever will be, Mr. Los Angeles.

Prayers and love to his first lady Brigid and the entire LaBonge family.


Carolyn Ramsay – Former Field Deputy for City Council Member Tom LaBonge

A floral memorial created today by former members of LaBonge’s staff at the top of Mount Hollywood, where LaBonge used to hike daily. LaBonge would go three times around the pole as part of his morning
ritual. Photo from Carolyn Ramsay

Tom really loved people and he loved Griffith Park, which he considered the crown jewel in the Los Angeles Parks system. During his tenure he added 138 acres to the park with the Cahuenga Peak Project adding green space and prevent development of luxury housing. He raised the funds from a diverse groups of donors including Hugh Heffner, Elaine Getty and Tiffany and Company. He would hike everyday and he learned to say hello and thank you in many different languages so he could great everyone he would encounter in their native language.

Tom loved Larchmont so much. He loved that he would see the diversity of the city when he walked down the street as well as the historic character of the neighborhood. He loved being the Councilmember for District 4. He grew up in the district, the seventh of eight brothers in a large Irish Catholic family in Silver Lake. He attending John Marshall High School and played sports in Griffith Park. Representing the district where he grew up meant everything to him.

Tom tended to see the best in everyone, preferring to think there more common ground than differences. We often thought, Tom and then Vice President Joe Biden, now President-Elect were cut from the same cloth. They both came for large Catholic families with strong family values. Tom loved coming into a room with pumpkin bread that he would buy from the cloisters nuns in Hollywood and knowing everyone in the room. That old school style of politics fell out of fashion for a while but in the current political context, it looks very refreshing.


Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council

We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of former Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who spent 14 years representing us in Council District 4, and who devoted his life to the City of Los Angeles on and off the clock. He was also instrumental in the founding of the GWNC, and those of us who had the pleasure of working with him have many fond stories of his devotion to the District and the City.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and colleagues.


John Welborne – Larchmont Chronicle

John and Martha Welborne with Tom LaBonge at the La Brea Tar Pits celebrating the 50% completion of the Purple Line Extension’s Section 1 on June 2, 2019.

Like everyone, I was so shocked to hear of Tom’s sudden death yesterday. On Tuesday afternoon, he and I were sitting in the Larchmont Chronicle office discussing local and world affairs and talking about plans for the future — how to continue improving things in our city. He had an idea (that he may have been discussing with some TV assignment editors) of doing a series of Huell Howser-type interviews of street people. I think that Tom would have been great as such an interviewer. Tom was a very compassionate guy, and he certainly was good at meeting and talking with strangers. I have seen him walk up to overseas visitors to Los Angeles (people speaking German or French or other non-English languages), greet these strangers, and truly make them feel welcome.

Tom would drop by the Larchmont Chronicle office regularly — often when we were busy with our final deadline for the next month’s issue! But he always was welcome, and he always brought positive energy. Almost a force of nature. And always concerned about our community. Just a few weeks ago, he was bemoaning the increasing amounts of trash on Larchmont!

I knew and worked on local and city projects with Tom since the late 1970s. He stood up for his constituents. He wasn’t perfect, and he admitted it. No year would go by that he would not mention to me, with regret, one particular zoning case on Larchmont where he made what proved to be a big mistake in his recommendation to John Ferraro. But his attention to quality of life issues was heartfelt, and he worked to make things better for those who live and work here.

His energy and knowledge and love of his city will be missed. He had so much more he could have given to the city that he loved. His passing leaves a big hole.


Martha Welborne 

I am so, so sad that we have lost Tom LaBonge. It’s hard to believe that a person so full of life and love could be gone. We all know how he loved Los Angeles and would sing its praises to anyone who would listen. He also had an amazing memory of the history of the city and all sorts of fun facts. I was very amused one night at the Hollywood Bowl when John and I were there with Brigid and Tom and Tom started a Los Angeles trivia contest with John. Tom rattled off questions rapid fire. John, of course, knew most of the answers, but Tom won, as I recall, but of course he was controlling the questions. I was also amused at how Tom loved to surprise people. Over the many years that I knew him, he would randomly pop up at our house, at my office, on the phone, or even at church. He knew that I often attended the 5:00pm Saturday night Mass at St. Brendan’s and he would often appear out of nowhere and sit right next to me. He would wait until Mass had started and then sneak in for the surprise, smiling the whole time. He also appeared early one morning in front of our house when John and I were outside (in our pajamas no less) because an ambulance had just pulled up to our beloved elderly neighbor’s house. We wanted to make sure she was all right. While she was a bit confused and upset, when she saw Tom, her Councilman, pull up, get out of his car, and look after her, she started smiling and chuckling. That was Tom, always ready to help and spread his cheer. I will miss you, dear friend!


John Darnell – Department of Neighborhood Empowerment

Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge used to attend National Night Out at Poinsettia Recreation Center every year, even though it wasn’t in his Council District. This park is in Councilmember Paul Koretz’s district. He made us all feel so good and we always talked about what projects were going on and what we could do to make things better. One year, Councilmember LaBonge had an idea that he told to Councilmember Paul Koretz, and myself, since I was Councilmember’s Field Deputy at the time. The idea was to ask the Department of Transportation to look into installing all-way stop signs at the intersection right in front of the park, so that the people crossing the street would be safer, and especially the kids. The city had plans to put in a new playground at the park, and do many other renovations. Councilmember LaBonge wanted to make sure the kids were safe when going to the new playground. He saw this opportunity to do so, and he didn’t want credit. He just wanted to help. I don’t know if anybody really knows this story and how it happened. The stop signs were later installed, because both Councilmember Tom LaBonge and Councilmember Paul Koretz teamed up to make it happen. The intersection is Fuller Avenue and Willoughby Avenue. If you drive by to see it, you can see his work. Whenever I drive by that intersection, I always think of him. Thank you, Councilmember Tom LaBonge, for caring about us.


Barbara Savage – La Brea Hancock Resident

I will never forget how much I learned about Los Angeles and her history while “rolling” in the district with him. On one occasion, while “rolling” on Vermont above Sunset, he pulled over, grabbed a shovel and a broom from his trunk and he and I swept the street clean. This is the type of leader Tom was.

He DID things to make LA better. He put sweat equity into his job. He was never too busy to help a stranger and there was always an invitation to come visit him in City Hall. He made everyone feel important.

Tom, you will be missed.


Chris Devlin – Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce

Chris Devlin’s engagement photo – taken at Griffith Observatory, immediately post-proposal, by Tom LaBonge.

I had the pleasure of knowing Councilman Tom LaBonge’s boundless energy, love of L.A., care of his people, the ability to be everywhere at once, and his showman-like style of taking the stage and telling a tale through the Greater Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce. But I also knew his love of photography with his beautiful calendar he would give each year. Ironically on December 21st, 2018 I ran into Tom at the Griffith Park Observatory. He was there enjoying the Winter Solstice festivities and I was proposing to my now fiance. After telling him about our engagement, he congratulated us in his enthusiastic way and proceeded to take numerous beautiful photos of us that we treasure to this day. He was truly a man of the people and the definition of a public servant to this city. He will be greatly missed.


Jim O’Sullivan – Former President, Miracle Mile Residential Association

I had lots of interactions with Tom LaBonge throughout the years. Most were joyful but a few of them were heated. My wife used to say that the reason I got along with him was because he was a “regular guy,” which was high praise from her. She was right. He was younger than me but our backgrounds were extremely similar from family to work ethic. I always felt I could level with him and he with me. In the end I will remember him for his love of family and neighborhood and for being the “godfather” of the Miracle Mile HPOZ. When I asked him if he would recommend the neighborhood for HPOZ status the only question he asked was did we have the money to do the survey. I told him we did and we shook hands on it. We both kept our word and that is how I will always remember him, that big smile and a handshake. Rest in peace my friend.


Steve Kramer and Tom LaBonge at the 2011 TarFest Art Show at the Korean Cultural Center. Photo from James Panozzo.

Steve Kramer – Kramer Law Group

I’m probably being redundant but Tom LaBonge was truly Mr. Los Angeles. I never met anyone who loved this city more than Tom did.

In both large and small ways Tom was always on the lookout to make a situation better. Even after his final term in office, Tom continued his affectionate relationship with Los Angeles and its citizens. He will be sorely missed.


James Panozzo – TARFEST

James Panozzo with  Miracle Mile/LA gallerist (and Panozzo’s wife) Merry Karnowsky, and Tom LaBonge at the TARFEST Juried Art Show in 2011 at the Korean Cultural Center. Photo from James Panozzo.

I met Tom LaBonge at the urging of Steve Kramer, President of the Greater Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, in 2002.
I had presented Steve with an idea for a community arts festival in the then under-utilized green space known as Hancock Park  on the grounds of the La Brea Tar Pits. Tom enthusiastically welcomed me into his office and listened to my ideas and reasoning  for this event in a special park in our special neighborhood. He introduced me to key leaders, departments and staff that embraced my  then youthful enthusiasm. 20 years later TARFEST remains an important annual event in Los Angeles, having served hundreds of emerging  artists and satisfied thousands of local resident attendees. Tom enabled me to fulfill a shared vision and experience the positive effects  of collaboration for common good. For this I am grateful.

I have only the fondest memories of Tom attending every TARFEST during his tenure, speaking with artists and attendees and bringing a smile  to everyone he encountered. He attended Chamber meetings, local ribbon cuttings and school and community events speaking from the heart and filling  audiences with civic pride and joy. He supported people and ideas. He built a community in CD 4 and throughout LA.

I will remember him walking down Wilshire Boulevard greeting shop owners, while acknowledging city workers who drove by,  then picking up a piece of litter and depositing it in a trash can while dropping some wisdom in my impressionable mind.

Thank you for all your service and wonderful memories Tom LaBonge!


Tom LaBonge with veterans at Forest Lawn. Photo from Patricia Carroll.

Patricia Carroll – Hollywoodland Realty

Apart from EVERYTHING Tom has done for our community and CD4, I am especially grateful to Tom as he was largely responsible for the GWNC extending its boundaries east of Wilton. He fought for that and got St Brendan’s on board saying they didn’t want to divide the school and the church between two council districts. The nuns came to that very famous and decisive boundary meeting, spoke…and it was very hard for the powers that be to resist their plea.

On another note, Tom had a heart of gold. Every year he would go to Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn for the Memorial and Veterans day presentations, often as Master of Ceremonies and always giving a heartfelt and impassioned speech. The love and energy he brought to the stage was always wonderful. He was a true patriot.


Edie  Frère – Landis Gifts & Stationery

One of my favorite memories of Tom, aside from his always bringing me a calendar with his photos for many years, is his arriving at Landis one day in early 2020 or late 2019 with a large cardboard box. “I am cleaning out things,” he said,” and my wife said I couldn’t keep these. I thought you might enjoy having them” I was so flattered, and very surprised, to find a set of dinner plates from Perino’s in the box. This is a part of history from my parents’ generation and I accepted them with great joy. I’ve had fun using them at dinner parties and hearing other people’s Perino’s memories, and I think of Tom each and every time I set the table with them.


Richard Battaglia – Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society

I am so sorry to hear of the passing of former Councilman Tom LaBonge. I remember him fighting valiantly for us in our quest to pass the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone for Windsor Square. He stood his ground and like a good captain steered the ship in the right direction often through a contentious crowd of opposition.


Conrad Starr – Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association & Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council

Tom LaBonge (center) at the 2017 Larchmont Family Fair, with GWNC representatives Joe Hoffman and Max Kirkham.

Though he left office in 2016, Councilman LaBonge continued to attend community events, and he was always happy to chat with his former constituents. He visited our GWNC booth at the 2017 Larchmont Family Fair. I caught him in the procession of the 2018 Kingdom Day Parade in Leimert Park. The last time I saw and spoke with him was at the Metro Purple Line “Halfway to La Cienega” event in summer, 2019. On each occasion he appeared to be traveling alone, but he was never really by himself, because he was always congregating with the people of the city he so clearly loved.

As a young renter in the area, I would look forward to receiving his wall calendar, full of his photos from around the city. He’d send one out to CD4 residents every year, on his own dime.

Fans of local history can check out the LaBonge Photo Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. I love the contrasty, saturated 1980 shot of the E. Clem Wilson Building (then branded “Mutual of Omaha”) at Wilshire and La Brea, with an eastbound, red Ford Fairmont caught in the afternoon traffic. My mom owned the same make, model, and color of car. It could have been us.

My last memory of Tom is from that Metro event. He waved to our booth, then crossed the Great Lawn of the Tar Pits to Wilshire.


Heather Boylston – Larchmont Business Improvement District

The Buzz ran this photo in November 2013 accompanying a story about the installation of trash cans on Larchmont Blvd. Students from Larchmont Charter School join CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, representatives from BigBelly Solar, H+R PR’s Heather Boylston and CD4 Chief of Staff Carolyn Ramsay to roll out the new waste and recycling containers on Larchmont Boulevard. (Photo credit: Rebecca Hutchinson)

Larchmont Village is heavyhearted to hear about Tom LaBonge’s untimely passing. As our councilmember for several years, he was always there for our community. He was so dedicated to the city that he could be seen in his rubber boots during a rainstorm clearing debris from the streets. That was the kind of dedication he had to his constituents. Our thoughts and our support are with his family during this difficult time.


Cindy Chvatal-Keane – Hancock Park Homeowners Association

The Hancock Park Homeowners Association sends our sincere condolences to the LaBonge family. We will remember him for his many years of service to the city.


Jane Gilman – Larchmont Chronicle Founder

I’ve known Tom LaBonge for almost 30 years since beginning when he was a deputy to John Ferraro he loved Los Angeles and knew every nook and cranny we had planned to do a book on his knowledge and the city has lost a true loyal citizen.


Lyn Cohen – Hancock Park resident and Founder of First-In Fire Foundation

Lyn Cohen (black dress and red fire hat) with Tom and others at the unveiling of Fire Station 29’s Centennial Garden.

Tom was solid, he was archangel for the City of Angels. Tom really believed in local leadership as the key to building and keeping the community strong. He literally showed up at everything. He was a huge supporter of the fire department and is was the inspiration from me getting involved.


Ben David – Wilshire Rotary

Wilshire Rotary President Ron Reyes, Wyck Godfrey, Paramount Studios and Councilmember Tom LaBonge at a Rotary meeting in August 2019.

It is with heavy heart that I share the passing of our dear friend and honorary member Tom LaBonge. Tom was always a great supporter of the Wilshire Rotary Club, at our meetings and service projects, and a long time leader of our great city.

Tom will be greatly missed and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.


Robert Day – Coldwell Banker

Two Toms that have made a major positive impact on the city of Los Angeles have left us – LaBonge and Lasorda.
One moment that stands out in my mind but before that I believe it was at a the LBA mixer soon after my mother Cookie passed 2011. I was on my way out leaving the event and Tom grabbed me gave me a big hug told me how much he was saddened by my mother’s passing and what a great character she was. One of a kind. I was touched. He then took me out to his car and pulled out of his trunk a city proclamation in honor of my mom.

Sometime after that a couple of buddies of mine and I went up to Woodrow Wilson golf course to get a burger from the cafe and sit out on the Verandah. As we walked into the grill room, there sitting was Tom with the president of KCET trying to convince him to keep KCET in Los Angeles. As I approached them, once again Tom extended his condolences and both of them stood up and Tom gave me the biggest most sincere extended bear hug. I was quite honored with my two buddies standing by watching.

I got to know Tom over the years since our daughters were in the same class at Immaculate Heart. I like Tom Labonge even though he gave me grief for wearing no socks with my dress shoes.


Joane Henneberger Pickett – Pickett Fences

I am heartbroken about Tom LaBonge. No city official has ever loved Larchmont more than Tom. He installed our crosswalks, he rezoned the Village to 2 stories in height, he gave us so much special attention.

Tom and I worked to launch the Sunday Farmers’ Market to bring energy to a street that was completely sleepy on Sundays.

Tom and I also worked to add stop signs to the crosswalks as we both observed near casualties daily. He used discretionary funds to make sure the crosswalks and the stop sign and the small medians were a beautiful additional to our Village.

I gathered signatures and Tom proposed and was successful in rezoning the Village block from 3 stories to 2 stories. I think this will prove critical in the future to the neighbors whose homes surround our Village.

Tom was such a great supporter of the LBA and all things Larchmont. He was a dear friend of mine and I will miss him terribly.


Elizabeth Fuller – Larchmont Buzz

Wilshire Crest school volunteers Liz Fuller and Joy Trible, Tom LaBonge, Carolyn Ramsay (center, in shorts), Wilshire Crest Principal Joan McConico (second from right) and volunteer partners from the Curtis School at the 2008 Big Sunday volunteer event at Wilshire Crest Elementary School.

I first met Tom as a board member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, back around 2005.  But it wasn’t until 2008 that I learned just how approachable he was, and how much he could get done when he decided to take a project or organization under his wing.  In 2008, the City decided to promote Big Sunday volunteer events all across the city, and Tom’s office picked the event at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, which I was organizing on the school side, to adopt and sponsor.  Tom and his then-field deputy, Carolyn Ramsay, threw everything they had into the event, including funding and matching us with other organizations and volunteers, and it was both massive and massively successful – in one day, more than 550 volunteers re-landscaped the front of the school, planted a teaching garden, painted playground benches, cleaned classrooms, and made art and craft projects for both the school and nearby nursing homes…all the while being entertained by a balloon artist, live band, and more.  It was a glorious celebration of community spirit, very much up Tom’s alley…and it sparked a 12-year tradition of Big Sunday events at the school, a streak broken only this past year by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Tom LaBonge Community Photo Album

[Note:  this story was updated after its initial publication to add the comments from Barbara Savage.]

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  1. So well done. Thank you for accurately and heartfelt reporting on Tom and his empowering the grassroots everywhere in CD4. We together with other community advocates
    will honor Tom with some of the causes he loved most: the Fire Department & Fire Service ,
    Tree Planting & greening LA and Griffith Park, Larchmont, and Miracle Mile and always, always
    Patriotism. With love and fondest memories for our dear friend, Tom, Lyn & Marc Cohen.


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