My Friendship With Jeff San Marchi – Editor and Publisher of The Ojai & Ventura Voice
Back in the 90s Jeff did a series of articles on a local developer who transgressed all boundaries of environmental decency.
He researched the developer’s history extensively and found out that he was accused in several trials for alleged connections to organized crime. During this time he received a letter from the developer’s lawyer with scathing threats. Not only did the letter threaten Jeff with litigation, it also demanded an apology and that he rescind everything he wrote. If he did not comply, he would definitely regret it, which was a not so subtle threat to his physical wellbeing.
“How you gonna handle this, Jeff?”
“I ain’t apologizing for the truth… never !”
I screamed at him, “Are you f__ing crazy man? You’re not in the little league of the Ojai City Council here. You’re messing with the big boys. They’ll put your ass down in a heartbeat… and who in the hell in their right mind would publish my articles then? At least write no more about this.”
“Peter, this is an important issue for me, I’m of Italian-American descent myself. I’ve researched every minute detail, the article stands as written…period!”
Not only did he not apologize or rescind, he continued to report on this issue and the developer’s alleged mob connections.
Jeff was not only one of the most stubborn men I’ve ever known, he was also one of the most courageous… he had huevos! He never kissed anyone’s ass, not from the right, not from the left and never for profit. He lived by his own code of honor.
Unfortunately, my friend was a slave to the commitment he made to his newspaper. He’d often work fifteen hours a day. He literally worked himself to death and I’m still bloody pissed off at him for that. I knew he needed a break and getaway, so early on I asked him, “Maddawg, we’re heading out this week-end, it’s on me. We’ll hit the cantinas in Tijuana and Ensenada and dance with the girls. Do you know how to Salsa? No? Well, go take a yoga class from Suza before we go, she’ll help you stretch your muscles. Be ready at four a.m. Friday morning.” “Naaah Peter, I gotta get the paper out.”
I asked him again six months later with the same results. Soon this dialogue became an ongoing joke. In the last two decades I asked him at least forty times to hit the road and take a few days off. The answer was always the same, “Naaah Peter, I gotta get the paper out.” The only time he took off in twenty years was to be with his daughters, Ana and Rosa. Whenever he would talk about them, which was often, love would beam through his eyes. I’ve known Ana and Rosa since they were little girls. They are truly beautiful souls, which is a compliment to Jeff and their mother, Catherine.
I first met Jeff shortly after I moved to Ojai. In the early eighties, my brother and I would hike the local trails. In the evening we’d hit The Hub, listen to good music on their jukebox, hoist a few brews and then head down to the jail in Libbey Park to crash in our sleeping bags. I first fell in love with Ojai when I woke up one morning with the sun rising and took in the soulful vibe of Libbey Park. Many of the people I know fell in love with Ojai, that’s why they moved here.
Ten years later I arrived to put down roots. During my second week I attended the music festival with a bottle of wine in my cooler. I believe the symphony was from Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven. At that time, my musical leanings were towards Rock, Bluegrass, Folk and the Blues. This was my first attendance in a symphony. The music was awesome, transcending and absolutely beautiful. When the music stopped, I got up, applauded whooped, hollered and screamed “Bravo! Bravo! Bravvvooo! I was the only one. All of a sudden people around me hissed, “Psst, psst, be quiet, sit down, psst, psst.” Apparently, one doesn’t applaud until the symphony is totally over. I thought I was in a snake pit. I embarrassingly sat down, my ‘in love’ state with Ojai got immediately challenged.
I put my first symphony experience down on paper and sent it to Jeff. He loved it and put it in ‘The Voice’. At that point our friendship started and it would slowly deepen like a river over the next two decades.
Now that Jeff has passed on, the god or goddess of grief has descended. I know enough to lean into grief and not push it away. Many times during my daily walks through the streets of Ojai, I go by his old house. A memory of Jeff always flashes on and a tear rolls from my eye.
Jeff, my writings in this new paper will always be dedicated to you. I will draw on your warrior spirit who fought relentlessly and uncompromisingly for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, a gift given to us in The Constitution by our forefathers. I love you and I miss you – God Bless!