Prominent Santa Monica businessman and community leader Bob Gabriel, owner of Bob Gabriel Co. insurance agency, died on Thursday, December 13, at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. He was 84.
Gabriel was a former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, a former City Council member, and a board member and co-founder of the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Louise, and by their two daughters, Susan Potter and Sharyl Szydlik, their son, Robb, their grandsons Patrick and Briyan Potter and Michael Szydlik, and by his brother, Richard.
Santa Monica Mayor Herb Katz told the Mirror, “Bob devoted his life to helping the community. His main legacy with his wife is the Santa Monica Historical Society.” Gabriel was a Republican and Katz a Democrat, Katz noted. “We agreed and disagreed depending on the situation, but always in a friendly manner. Bob was a gentleman at all times.”
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Gabriel grew up working in his father’s market, and ultimately managed the store. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was recalled for active duty during Korea, most of it overseas. He ended his active tour with a training post at the Santa Monica Airport.
Gabriel worked in Santa Monica real estate, and in November, 1960, he opened Bob Gabriel Insurance Company on the corner of 23rd Street and Wilshire Boulevard, where the business operates today.
Commercial realtor Vince Muselli, who knew Gabriel “for at least 30 years,” said, “Bob had a great heart, especially when it came to benefiting Santa Monica. Everything he did was directed to making Santa Monica a better place.” When Muselli was “a youngster involved in the JayCees,” he recalls, “Bob was considered a patriarch of the City.” Gabriel was a chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, a post to which Muselli later succeeded, and the two worked together on the old Santa Monica Board of Realtors as well.
Gabriel received numerous awards for his volunteer service over the years, including the Community Service Award from the Lions Club, the first “William S. Mortensen” Award from the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, and the Kiwanis Club’s Community Service Award. He also received the Santa Monica Realtor Citizen of the Year Award, the National Conference of Christians and Jews Humanitarian Award, the Boys Club of America’s Medallion for Unusually Devoted Service to Youth, the Service Award from the Salvation Army, and recognition from the Rotary International Foundation. He was a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Santa Monica, and also a strong supporter of the nativity scenes in Palisades Park since 1955.
“All of us having the good fortune to serve as Chair of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce try to measure up to Bob’s high standards of business and community leadership,” noted Tom Larmore, now chairman of the Chamber. “Bob served that role during a difficult time and, as he did in all of his activities, represented his constituency with grace and intelligence.”
Gabriel was particularly proud of the work being done by the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum to preserve the city’s treasures for future generations. The museum, which will relocate to new headquarters in the main library building in 2008, aims to give residents a sense of roots, belonging, and an appreciation for the unique qualities of their city, and to instill a sense of pride in the diverse, multi-cultural past of Santa Monica.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 29, at 10 a.m. at St. Monica Church, 725 California Avenue, followed by burial services at Woodlawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made in Gabriel’s memory to the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum, 1539 Euclid Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404. For further information, call 310.395.2290 or go to santamonicahistory.org.