Monday, February 21, 2011

Every Day Is Phil Marquez Day

For several years, my office was in the back of the Paddy’s building at Main Street and Ventura Avenue. This meant that several times a day, I walked past Phil Marquez’s barber shop – waving, peeking in, and generally speaking finding myself fascinated by this very old and beloved man who still put a pair of hair-cutting scissors into his hands every day no matter what.

One day about a year and a half ago, I was riding my bike to work, and as I rode on the sidewalk past Phil’s shop (possibly a violation of the municipal code, which prohibits riding bikes on the sidewalk downtown), I suddenly encountered a car suddenly appeared in the driveway, headed out of the parking lot toward Main Street.

I tried to stop but I couldn’t stop so quickly, so the bike fell over and I was thrown, bike shorts and all, into the bushes. I stood up ready to be really angry – after all, I may have been riding on the sidewalk in violation of the municipal code, but the car was driving the wrong way in a one-way driveway! I started to yell, and then …

… and then I realized that it was Phil’s granddaughter dropping him off at work. She was driving the wrong way in the driveway so that the passenger’s side door would be right by Phil’s shop, thus minimizing the walk Phil had to make. Phil wasn’t moving very fast at this point; sometimes it would take him two hours to cut a head of hair. A few months later, Phil finally decided to give up cutting hair – after running his barber shop in the same location for 63 years.

How could I be angry? I was only the deputy mayor. He was Phil Marquez.

Last June, when we all celebrated Phil Marquez Day at the Bell Arts Factory, I told this story. Phil’s granddaughter was horrified to realize that she had forced the mayor (then the deputy mayor) to take a tumble, but Phil laughed uproariously – he thought the whole story was very funny. Which made the telling of the story even better. (You can see a picture of Phil being serenaded by a barbershop quartet at this event -- and loving it! -- on flickr.)

Phil died last Tuesday, February 15th, at the age of 95. I think it’s fair to say no one in Ventura was ever more beloved, and no one will ever be missed so much. I’m very proud that in his email summarizing Phil’s life, Moses Mora – our chronicler of life on the Westside – quoted what I said last June: "We can't go on forever proclaiming Phil Marquez Days, so let's just declare every day Phil Marquez Day."

I was so moved by last June’s event that, not long ago, I asked my intern Marisol Luna to see if Phil could sign the poster Moses had created for the event. (Phil's signature was on the poster, but I wanted an original!) Marisol called Phil’s daughter, Barbara Marquez-O’Neil, who warned that – like the cutting of hair in recent years – the signing of the poster might take quite a long time. But Phil did sign it for me.

When I called Barbara the other day to express my condolences, she told me that signing the poster was almost literally the last thing Phil ever did. I’ll get it framed now and keep it in my office forever, to make sure that every day will be Phil Marquez day.

A Rosary for Phil will be held on Thursday, February 24, 2011, at 7 p.m. at the Old Mission in Downtown Ventura. A Memorial Mass will be held the next morning, Friday, February 25, at 10a.m., also at the Old Mission.

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