Tom Friery, the man who oversaw the city of Sacramento's investment and financing operations for nearly three decades, died Sunday night of a massive heart attack at age 69.
Friery served as city treasurer from 1978 to 2007. His wife, Linda, said he died in Carson City, where he had planned to play in a golf tournament Monday.
"He was a brilliant numbers guy, yet he had lots of heart," said former Sacramento City Manager Walter Slipe. "He was not a bean counter."
Friery left a considerable legacy, said current city treasurer Russell Fehr. Friery oversaw the financing for numerous civic buildings, including the new City Hall, the Crocker Art Museum expansion, the Central Library and several branch libraries, the Samuel Pannell Meadowview Community Center and the Wells Fargo Pavilion, home of the Music Circus, not to mention less glamorous but critical projects such as water treatment plants.
In 1997, when it appeared the city might lose the Sacramento Kings during former owner Jim Thomas' tenure, Friery crafted a loan that kept the team in the city.
In 2011, following his retirement, he was named to the 15-member executive committee of Here We Build, a group established to analyze options for financing a new sports arena in Sacramento.
Friery was an ardent Kings fan and was greatly disappointed when the deal to build a downtown arena collapsed earlier this year.
"He wanted that thing to go through so bad," said his wife.
Fehr said Friery was creative in finding ways to finance city projects but avoided risks.
"All our debt, except the Kings deal, is in 30-year, fixed-rate bonds none of these variable rate (bonds) or derivatives that got so many cities and other governments in trouble," Fehr said.
Former Mayor Anne Rudin said she was on a citizens committee that interviewed treasurer candidates and recommended Friery for the job in 1978.
The only thing that gave the panel pause during the interview, Rudin said, was that he had a button missing from the cuff of his shirt sleeve.
"We wondered if he was really a stickler for detail," she recalled.
Any reservations were quickly dispelled.
"He was full of information," Rudin said. "He could educate you on any issue regarding the city treasury and finance."
Friery was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where he and his wife met and married. They would have celebrated their 48th anniversary this week, said Linda Friery.
They moved to California when he was offered a temporary position working for then-state Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest. He subsequently landed a permanent post.
In the 1970s, Friery worked for the Regents of the University of California and later for the state auditor general's office. He left California for a few years to work for the Washington Public Power Supply System, but the family missed Sacramento, said Linda Friery.
When Friery saw the Sacramento treasurer's position advertised in the Wall Street Journal, he submitted his application.
By the time he retired, Friery had worked under 10 different mayors and 72 council members.
Although Friery served in a council-appointed office, he always spoke his mind and was forthright with the council in his analyses and recommendations, said Slipe, the former city manager.
"He was always above the politics of City Hall," Slipe said.
In retirement, Friery pursued his golf game and served as finance director at Sierra View Country Club in Roseville.
But he most enjoyed time with his family. He delighted in his grandchildren, joining enthusiastically with them in activities whether playing checkers or riding bikes.
"He had a childlike demeanor about him when he was playing with children," said Linda Friery. "They all loved him."