With the presidential race overshadowing just about anything going on in “down-ballotville,” it is important for Burbankers to be aware that as Election Day draws nigh, our city is about to embark on a historic one.
In 2018 voters passed Measure V, which eliminated the city’s primary election and moved the general election from April to November to coincide with statewide and national elections. That means this fall will be the first time in the city’s history that Burbankers will elect their municipal representatives on Nov. 3.
As the Burbank City Council race heats up, I have been reflecting on the many people I have known who have served as the mayor of our city over the years. As I thought about them, one thing became painfully clear: I am old!
How old? Well, of the 62 Burbankers who have held the title of mayor, I have been friends or acquaintances with 29 of them. I also knew the three City Council members who, over the past 30 years, were never elevated to the mayoral position, which means I have known almost half of those who have served on our council since Burbank was incorporated in 1911. To put that in perspective, it would be akin to someone saying they have known every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland on, which, I guess, more than just making me old, makes me ancient!
Within the ranks of those who have occupied the mayor’s office there have been, and are, those whom I regard as dear friends. One of our former mayors whom I count in that group was Jarvey Gilbert, who served as Burbank’s 29th mayor.
Born in Minneapolis, Gilbert moved to Burbank in 1945, shortly after he graduated from medical school. Working as a general practitioner, he had a practice on Orange Grove Avenue and by the time he retired in 1995, he figured he had treated more than 400,000 patients.
In much the same way that Gilbert was able to help people through the practice of medicine, he also believed he could make people’s lives better through public service. He was elected to the City Council in 1967, served as mayor from 1970-71, won a second council term and then went on to serve four years on the Burbank board of education.
I first met Gilbert shortly after he retired and always enjoyed my visits with him and his wife, Sally, at their home on East Grinnell Drive. Soft-spoken and always exuding warmth and kindness, Gilbert had been a part of the council that established the Joslyn Adult Center, passed a moratorium on hillside development, and eliminated billboards in Burbank’s commercial zones. He also did something that made him unique among Burbank mayors: He wrote a book.
His “Prescriptions for Good Living,” published by Price/Stern/Sloan Publishing in 1971, was not about his life as a doctor or an elected official, but rather a compilation of inspirational advice on living a happy life offered by some of the most celebrated people of the 20th century.
The idea for his book began in the late 1960s when Gilbert met actor and comedian Arte Johnson of “Laugh-In” fame at a fundraiser. When he asked Johnson to sign an autograph for his daughter, the only paper available was a prescription pad he had in the pocket of his suitcoat.
When Johnson, who famously played a German soldier on “Laugh-In,” saw what he was being asked to sign he felt it was apropos to write out a prescription, which he did. In German he wrote “Wir haben wege euch glucklich zu machen,” which means” “We have ways to make you happy.”
When Gilbert returned home with that signed prescription, a lightbulb went on in his head. It made him wonder what prescriptions other illustrious individuals might offer on living a happy life. Encouraged to explore that wonderment by his wife, Gilbert began sending blank prescription forms to luminaries from all walks of life to see what advice they might give.
Within a short period he had received more than 75 prescriptions that included a few words of wisdom or advice for living a happy life that had been penned by prominent prescribers. Among those who responded were President Gerald Ford, first lady Pat Nixon, Joan Baez, Bing Crosby, Sir John Gielgud, J. Paul Getty, Casey Stengel, Larry King, Mae West, Steve Allen, Charles Schulz, Jane Fonda, Helen Hayes, Norman Rockwell, John Wooden, Wilt Chamberlain, Aaron Copland, Herman Wouk, the Rev. Billy Graham and Carl Stokes, the first African-American to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city.
I remember that once, while visiting Gilbert, I mentioned there was one glaring omission in his book. When I said that he gave me a questioning look.
“You didn’t include your own prescription for living a happy life,” I said.
He sat back in his chair and smiled.
“What would be your prescription?” he asked me.
Without thinking, I began rattling off various things, sort of just babbling as he sat looking at me with that gentle smile of his.
When I finished, he shook his head and said something about that all sounding good, as if I had offered up anything of value.
“And you?” I asked.
“I don’t have a profound prescription to offer,” said the man who had asked so many others to provide theirs. “I think asking someone to give a prescription for living a happy life is kind of a tall order, isn’t it?” he said with a laugh.
I sat looking at him for a moment, a bit surprised and, perhaps, even more embarrassed over the fact that I had just felt so free to spew out my thoughts in front of a man who had the wisdom to keep his to himself.
Perceiving my chagrin, he gave me a wink. “It is a pretty tall order, but I like the prescription you gave because you know what works for you, and that’s where happiness has to begin,” he said.
Gilbert passed away in 2000 at the age of 82. To this day, his book has a permanent spot in my little home library and whenever I find myself in need of an inspirational boost I’ll reach for it, flip it open, and read a few of the prescriptions. That always makes me feel both better and humbled — better by reading the little pearls of wisdom it contains, and humbled by the kind inscription he wrote to me after I made my attempt to fill a tall order way beyond my pay grade:
“Best wishes to David who has his own Rx for happy living.”
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.