Jerry Caligirui, 61, a beloved local community activist, was speaking at a regional meeting of Kiwanis Clubs Wednesday night when he collapsed suddenly at the podium and could not be revived, according to Tony Diaz, secretary of the Bixby Knolls Kiwanis Club.
Caligirui’s death shocked friends and supporters in the Long Beach area who saluted the popular Caligirui on social media.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia echoed what many were saying: “He was incredibly active in the community and local politics,” Garcia said. “He was such a kind and caring person. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t like Jerry Caligirui.”
Caligirui’s sister, Anna, who lived with her brother in Bixby Knolls, said he didn’t have any major health issues.
“He had the normal aches and pains of growing older, but I am still in shock on how sudden this was,” she said. “I was at home when I got a call from the Kiwanians who said Jerry was being taken to the hospital in Downey, but it was too late.”
Caligirui was running a special meeting of the regional Kiwanis Division Council at the Rio Hondo Golf Club in Downey when he collapsed and fell from the podium. Caligirui, as the group's lieutenant governor-elect, was filling in for Lieutenant Gov. Ed Schneeberger who could not attend because his grandson was having open-heart surgery in Kansas.
In an email to members of the 10 Kiwanis Clubs in the area before the meeting, Schneeberger said Caligirui had “graciously agreed” to run the meeting and “he told me not to worry.”
Many public officials praised Caligirui’s work in the community.
“Jerry was a pillar in the community,” said Eighth District Councilman Al Austin. “He was quietly responsible for much good in our city. I will miss his calm and caring advice.”
North Long Beach Councilman and vice mayor Rex Richardson said Long Beach had lost one of its biggest champions. “Jerry helped introduce me and so many others to the city.”
Carolyn Christian Hines said she and Caligirui were in the same Leadership Long Beach Class of 1999, which she said was “the best ever” because of Caligirui.
Caligirui’s involvement in community activities was legendary.
He was on the legislative staff of former Long Beach Councilmen Val Lerch and Rob Webb and senior field deputy for former Councilman James Johnson. He was a member of the Neighborhoods, USA board of directors, a community liaison to the Long Beach Airport, regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of Y service clubs and president of the Downtown Lions Club.
“He was a real people person,” Garcia said. “He was into grassroots service, like cleaning up areas and planting trees, anything to improve the community.”
Caligirui was born Aug. 16, 1956, at Seaside Hospital in Long Beach. He went to Longfellow Elementary and Progress High School, a private school in downtown Long Beach. He earned degrees at Long Beach City College, Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“He really liked archeology,” his sister, Anna, said. “But he had to take care of our ill parents and went into community work which he really enjoyed, especially the politics. He would pass out campaign literature and go door to door.”
Survivors include his sisters Anna and Frances (Sheldon) Vess of Riverside. Services are pending.