WALLA WALLA -- Don Angotti dreaded the idea that his service on the Walla Walla City Council in the 1990s would be most remembered for a tussle over pot-bellied pigs.
It turns out, it wasn't. Three days after his death from complications associated with surgery, those who know him describe the retired businessman and former councilman as someone who simply sought to make the community a better place to live. Nontraditional pets and all.
Angotti died Tuesday at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, roughly two weeks after surgery on his vocal chords, his wife, Jan Angotti, said Thursday. He was 78.
Angotti served a more than 40-year career at Cascade Natural Gas and 5 1/2 years on the Walla Walla City Council in the 1990s. He was a key voice for local service organizations, business endeavors and the Republican Party, and he was a tried-and-true supporter of DeSales Catholic High School athletics.
"He tried to make things better -- for his school, for his community, for his family," Jan Angotti said.
He did this, in part, by serving on scores of local committees and boards. During a tenure on the City Council that began in 1992, Angotti served on so many committees that when it came time for the councilmember reports at meetings, the city manager and city attorney reportedly made a game of guessing how many meetings he'd attended. His commitment was unsurpassed. As proof: In 2006 he was honored by the Milton-Freewater Rotary for 30 years of perfect attendance.
He was equally notorious for his punctuality, said Walla Wallan Jim Johnson, who worked with Angotti on the Walla Walla County Republican Central Committee. "We always counted on him to attend every meeting," Johnson said. "He always gave us a bad time when we didn't start on time."
When he spoke, Johnson said, people listened. "He was a very grounded individual, and his personal compass was good. He was extremely ethical."
Angotti was also a fixture at the Port of Walla Walla's bimonthly Economic Development Advisory Committee meetings, said Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz.
"Don consistently showed up an hour early so we could visit," Kuntz said. "And more often than not at the end of our visit my wallet was open to buy a raffle ticket for some cause that he was involved with."
A slick fundraiser -- he sold more tickets than just about anybody for the Central Committee's annual Lincoln Day Dinner -- he adopted causes for the betterment of the community, friends and associates said.
"I remember Don as having a big heart for Walla Walla," Kuntz said. "He dedicated a lot of his time to make Walla Walla a better place to live."
A 1950 graduate of St. Patrick's High School, Angotti served four years in the U.S. Navy, including during the Korean War. He returned to the area, became a meter repairman for Cascade Natural Gas and met his future wife at a Catholic young people's group in 1955 on a Sunday afternoon in Walla Walla.
"He was a jokester from Day One," Jan recalled. That day was her turn to fill out the name tags for members of the group. When it was time to write his down, he identified himself as "Joe Sausage." He wore it on his name tag throughout the event to the giggles of his friends and Jan's bewilderment. Within six weeks they were engaged. They married a year later, had four children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with one more on the way.
Angotti worked his way up to district manager for Cascade Natural Gas and transferred to various districts in other parts of the state before returning with his family to Walla Walla in 1984. Proud of the two years he attended Catholic school here, he became a huge supporter of DeSales.
In 1992, Angotti was appointed to the Walla Walla City Council to complete Tom Williams' term. He took tremendous pride in doing his homework on every issue before the meetings began, his wife recalled. He was re-elected in 1993 in a close race against Madeleine Eagon. In 1997 he was unseated by businessman Clark Covey.
Transportation funding, city street repairs and infrastructure were among Angotti's pet issues. But a concern about pets was one of the most hot-button items he faced as a councilman.
In 1997 a 30-year-old ban on potbellied pigs was revisited by the city when the owners of one such pet tried to get the law changed. Council members, Angotti included, were shocked at the passion the issue drew from the public. The ban was the subject of several well-attended meetings that developed as a quirky page in the city's history.
For the record, Angotti supported the ban, which ended up being lifted. At the end of his Council service in 1997 he lamented to his wife his disbelief that the pig ordinance might be one of the most memorable pieces of local legislation with which he would be associated.
But friends and family members are more likely to remember his dedication to community, period. A fervent volunteer, he was honored in 1997 with the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce's Award of Merit, its highest recognition for volunteerism. He said at the time he was simply paying forward what others had done for him as he grew up.
He demonstrated this, in particular, to the young athletes at DeSales. A dogged fan, Angotti attended every varsity basketball, baseball and football game with his wife.
They were often the first fans to arrive, said Mark Graves, DeSales assistant baseball coach. Angotti was usually armed with candy and munchies to share, as well as some occasional advice for the coaches from the stands.
"I would say he was about 399 percent a fan," Jan Angotti quipped. "He totally, totally, totally loved all those kids."
Her kids plan to encourage their mother's continued attendance at the games. And in her husband's honor, she thinks it's a good idea, too.
"I know he'll be rooting from up there, so I'll root from down here," she said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.