Former Sen. John Dunlap, a champion of progressive causes, died on Monday, March 7 with his loving wife Mary Lu and his children by his side. He was 99 years old. John's life spanned 100 years in the history of the Napa Valley and the State of California. The roots of his family extend back to the founding of the town of Napa, wrapping John in a web of family and community history celebrated with gatherings for all occasions. He initiated or joined in family picnics, Lion's Club breakfasts, trips to the mountains, and, of course, fourth of July picnics at the Fitches' with flag football and homemade peach ice cream.
He was the youngest of the four sons of Amy Coombs and Harry Dunlap, raised on the family's prune ranch in Yountville. He graduated from Napa High School in 1940, enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, and after four years in the Army during World War II, graduated from the UC in 1946, going on to Law School.
He would meet a girl from Pennsylvania, Janet Jack, traveling by train when returning to his Southern California Army base after a weekend visit with his parents in Napa. He offered her the window seat. They would talk through the night, and before they parted ways, he asked for her phone number.
After a Pennsylvania wedding, the couple briefly lived in San Francisco before settling in Napa where John joined the family law firm, Coombs and Dunlap. Over the late 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s John and Janet raised children and Cain together.
John was an energetic and fun father, friend, and community leader. Once the Viet Nam war drew his attention, though, his serious moral bearing rose to the top as he (to give one example) spoke out against the war at a public rally. His public speaking was part of his service work as he represented North Bay counties in the state Assembly from 1967 to 1974 and in the state Senate from 1974 to 1978. His service in the legislature was in keeping with family tradition, though he was a Democrat, while his great- grandfather, grandfather and uncle were all Republican lawmakers.
In the state Legislature, Dunlap led the fight to protect the California coastline. He authored the bill that created the California Agricultural Labor Relation Board. He carried legislation to ban the use of aerosols that were blamed for the depletion of ozone layer in the atmosphere. And he was a prime mover in the campaign to compel state government to stop investing in companies with business ties to South Africa, where the then-apartheid government denied rights to the black majority.
While John led with his politics, his deep interest in people enabled him to build relations of significance. Janet steered him in both through her love of psychology. After many years of marriage Janet died in 2007.
John met Mary Lu Kennelly in a bereavement class they joined after the deaths of their spouses in 2007. They were married in 2016. "I didn't know it could be this wonderful twice," John would later say.
Since John and Mary Lu shared a passion for progressive politics, it was only fitting that their honeymoon included a tour of the Obama White House. The honeymooners were honored at a family dinner and sat courtside at a Washington Mystics basketball game. Mary Lu's nephew coaches the WNBA team in Washington.
They also traveled to Holland, Belgium, Cuba, Alaska, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, New York, Boston, Quebec and Montreal, as well as to the annual Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon. And, when home, they like to read aloud to one another. Dunlap was an avid bocce player. He and Mary Lu were active members of the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists. Mary Lu was grateful to have spent the last 14 years with John. In an op-ed in his hometown newspaper, Dunlap - then age 97 - remembered high school friends and the contributions they made to their state and to their town. He also spoke to the Napa Historical Society about his family's place in the history of the county.
In addition to his wife, Mary Lu, John is survived by four children, Jane Dunlap of St. Paul, Minn., Peter Dunlap of Petaluma, David Dunlap of Napa and Jill Dunlap Golis of Santa Rosa. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law Margaret Dunlap of Petaluma and his son-in-law Pete Golis of Santa Rosa; by five grandchildren - Lauren Dunlap of Santa Monica and Trask Dunlap of Berkeley, Christopher Golis of San Francisco, Andrew Golis of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Leslie Truex of Charlottesville, Va. - and by five great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in John's memory to the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists or a charity of your choice. A memorial gathering will take place May 7th at 2:00 pm at the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists church to celebrate John life.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of John Dunlap, please visit our floral store.