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Victor Tessier

Veteran, lawyer, historic preservationist

 

Victor Gerald Tessier, devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend to many, died peacefully on November 27, 2016 at his home in Pomona at the age of 89. He was comforted by his bride of 51 years, Cathy, and surrounded by family.

Mr. Tessier was born in 1927 in Argyle, Minnesota to Eddie and Eleanor Tessier. He was the eldest of nine children and grew up on the family farm. In 1946, he left seminary school to serve in the US Army. He became a paratrooper and a decorated surgical medic in the 187th Infantry Regiment (the Rakkasans) of the 101st Airborne Division. He was stationed in Japan during the postwar occupation, rose to the rank of sergeant and ran a field hospital. Victor felt his most important contribution to the cause of peace was a successful effort to open a medical clinic that treated thousands of homeless Japanese civilians.

After an honorable discharge in 1949, Mr. Tessier graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Long Beach State University, graduated with a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Loyola Law School and passed the California bar in 1955. He opened his legal practice in Pomona and specialized in real estate law. He was a member of the Los Angeles County Bar, the Eastern County Bar and a 50-year member of the California State Bar.

In 1965, he met and married the love of his life Catherine Uhl, a musician and Riverside schoolteacher. They moved to Claremont in 1973 where for three decades they raised three children—two sons, Edward and Jerry, and one perfect daughter, Victoria. They were active members of Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, and lovingly restored their 1908 craftsman home on Indian Hill Boulevard.

The suffering Mr. Tessier witnessed in Japan and during the Depression moved him to become a quiet force behind many progressive causes. He donated extensively to pro bono work (he proudly said he never charged a servant of the cloth, no matter what religion). He helped African-American ministers who faced resistance when opening churches in Pomona. He represented homebuyers who challenged Pomona’s “color line,” a system of racial discrimination that barred many minorities from buying homes north of Holt Boulevard.

He filed the first environmental lawsuit against Pomona, saving dozens of historic trees threatened by development, and helped protect family farms threatened by suburban sprawl.

He defended members of the gay community who faced discrimination and harassment by public officials. He also helped disability activists organize several local civil rights campaigns.

To connect more disadvantaged clients with legal assistance, Mr. Tessier helped found two nonprofits: Legal Aid Services and Lawyers Referral Service. To help struggling families, he provided free adoption assistance and helped found another nonprofit, Pomona Valley Family Services. When many businesses fled Pomona, Mr. and Mrs. Tessier invested in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods. In south Pomona, they rehabbed more than 200 abandoned apartments, developed housing for Vietnamese refugees and were founders of the Southwest Council, a coalition that improved public services and housing for Latino and Asian immigrants.

In downtown Pomona, they renovated dozens of abandoned buildings, saving historic landmarks such as the Union Block, the Clark Hotel and the Progress Bulletin Building. The buildings they saved proved crucial to expanding Western University and launching the Pomona Arts Colony, a project spearheaded by their sons. The development company started by Victor and Cathy is now a leading force for historic preservation and cultural development throughout the Inland Empire. He was especially proud when the company completed a lavish restoration of the Pomona Fox Theater in 2009.

Mr. Tessier was a tireless volunteer with many civic organizations such as Pomona Central Business District, Toastmasters, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Optimists Club, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus and the Italian-Catholic Federation.

He gave generously to many organizations including the School of Arts and Enterprise, Western University of Health Sciences, Cal Poly Pomona, Foothill Country Day School, dA Center for the Arts and the Latino Arts Museum. He lived to see many organizations honor his family’s decades of public service with the following awards: The Boys and Girls Club, Community Partner of the Year; Pomona Chamber of Commerce, Community Service Award; Inland Valley Economic Development Corporation, twice Small Business of the Year; Pomona Heritage, Hall of Fame Award and the dA Center for the Arts’ Goddess Award.  

In 2002 Victor and Cathy moved back to Pomona so he could “retire,” be closer to his grandsons, enjoy his huge science fiction library and restore another 1908 craftsman home. He was a fixture at art openings, community theaters, garage sales and AYSO games. “We will miss his optimism, stories and faith,” his family shared.

Mr. Tessier is survived by his wife Cathy; by his children, Edward, Jerry and Victoria; by five grandsons, Victor, Eddie, Alex, Leo and Julien, and by seven of his siblings. 

The public is invited to a Celebration of Life on Saturday, December 17 at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, located at 435 Berkeley Ave. in Claremont. Mass will be held at noon, followed by a lunch and reception from 1 to 3 p.m. in the church auditorium.

In lieu of flowers, charitable donations in Victor’s memory can be made to the School of Arts and Enterprise (www.thesae.org), or to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (www.curealz.org).