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Dick Monteith, retired state senator and Stanislaus County supervisor, dies at 92

Richard “Dick” Monteith, who served for 20 years as a California state senator and Stanislaus County supervisor, died on Wednesday at a Modesto hospital, his family said. He was 92.

A statement released by the family said the former senator was surrounded by close family at the time of his passing.

“Beyond his dedicated public service, Dick was a cherished husband, father and grandfather,” the statement said. “We express our deepest gratitude for the countless community connections Dick held dear throughout his 92 years. His love for Stanislaus County and the surrounding region was evident in the numerous friendships he formed over the course of his remarkable life.”

Monteith was a state senator from 1994 to 2002 and served for 12 years on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

His political colleagues fondly remembered the longtime Republican as a gentleman in the Legislature, a fiscal conservative and friend of agriculture in the Central Valley.

“Dick Monteith was dedicated to public service and our Modesto community,” former Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen said in an email Friday. “He represented us in the state Senate when I was just a young staffer for another legislator in the Capitol. I had the privilege of serving alongside him on our county Board of Supervisors. He will always be ‘The Senator.’”

Monteith, a Los Banos native, was in the farm equipment business in Turlock and sold packaging supplies to the egg industry before entering politics. With no political experience, he ran for a state senate seat in 1994 and defeated a Democratic incumbent whose district had been redrawn.

“He was a long-shot when he ran,” said Jim DeMartini, former chairman of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee and a retired county supervisor. “It was a great Republican year. He came in on a good year and he won.”

Except for a campaign for a congressional seat, after Gary Condit lost in the Democratic primary in 2002, Monteith prevailed in every election and was elected to three terms as a Stanislaus County supervisor between 2006 and 2018.

In the state senate, Monteith was party to legislation that exempted farm equipment from state taxes, and backed other bills to remove a tax on tree-root stock and a sales tax on propane.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who served with Monteith in county government, said it harmonized California with some of the tax policies for agriculture in other states.

Chiesa recalled Monteith talking about the difference between state and local government. He said every vote in Sacramento had an impact on his next bill or the next vote, but local government was not marked by those political games.

“He felt the county was a more effective level of government,” Chiesa said. “He said local politics are where the rubber meets the road.”

Monteith was a graduate of Stanford University and played college football, blocking an extra point to preserve a Stanford win over Washington State in 1952. Political friends and family said Monteith stuck with an exercise routine that kept him fit for walking precincts to talk with voters.

“The guy had boundless energy,” Chiesa said. “He showed up every day and was always the first one in the office. He never once made me feel anything but good about myself as a supervisor.”

DeMartini also served with Monteith on the Board of Supervisors and kept in touch with the former senator after moving to Nevada a few years ago.

“He always read the agenda and was prepared for the meetings,” DeMartini said. “He was fiscally conservative. He made sure we never overspent the budget. ... I will miss talking with him about every two weeks.”

Monteith’s professional experience included general manager of Middleton Packaging, partner in Monteith Tractor and Truck Company, and sales representative for Weyerhaeuser and Gallo Wine. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was a former treasurer of Northern California Egg Handlers and a former Turlock Chamber of Commerce board member.

The family said details of a memorial service for Monteith will be shared at an appropriate time.