Gus Ayer, the former mayor of Fountain Valley and an avid environmentalist, died Wednesday night. He was 63.
According to his oldest son, Ethan, the cause of his death is still pending, but he was found at his Fountain Valley home by his youngest son, Eliot.
Ayer's recent endeavors included helping the residents of Fullerton save Coyote Hills, striking down Measure Z in Huntington Beach and campaigning for numerous council members for the cities of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Westminster.
"He helped Joe [Shaw] and I when we ran for council in 2010," Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said. "He also ran Debbie Cook's congressional campaign in 2008."
He was considered a mentor to all, including Huntington Beach Councilman Joe Shaw.
"I've known him for six years, but it feels a lot longer than that," he said.
Cook, a former mayor of Huntington Beach, agreed with Shaw and said he would "help anyone that shared his common goals of improving the quality of life for all citizens."
"He helped guide and mentor so many people who were interested in running for office or working on a campaign to protect some piece of their part of Orange County," Cook said. "Many of us turned for that kind of help."
Born Dec. 25, 1949 in Sunflower, Kansas, relatives would call his birthday "Gus-mas."
He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and later moved to San Francisco in 1972, where he would meet his wife, Verna, who he would marry in 1976.
The two eventually moved to Orange County in 1980 and he worked as a sales representative for different companies, according to his son, Ethan.
Ayer got his first taste of public service when he became the president and subsequently a board member for many years at his housing community, Green Valley.
Then in 2002, Ayer started to fully focus on public service and became a council member for Fountain Valley. Then in 2006, he was elected as mayor.
"I'm shocked and saddened and I wish my condolences onto his family," Fountain Valley Mayor Mark McCurdy said.
Fountain Valley Councilwoman Cheryl Brothers, who was on council with Ayer, said he was a "real numbers guy. He would read everything and was good with numbers and finances."
"I'm still shocked. It was all so sudden," she said.
Ethan Ayer said his father would do anything that would benefit not only his family, but everyone else in the community.
"He wanted government to work well and be fair to the people that they served," Ethan said. "When he thought residents weren't getting a good deal or government wasn't doing their job properly, he fought it no matter how big the fight was and how big the olds were against him. He's courageous and bold, in that way."
And he continued to fight after he left office in 2008. When he wasn't campaigning for others to join their respective city council, he turned to his other passion of environmental activism.
"He was a visionary. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the common good," Cook said. "He cared about transparency and open government and the rights of the tax payer, whether it was water issues or environmental issues."
Recently, Cook has worked with Ayer in an effort to prevent Poseidon Resources from building a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.
Ayer was supposed to attend a Mesa Water District meeting on Tuesday, but told Cook he wasn't feeling well.
"He was a great man and huge loss to Orange County citizens," Cook said.
When Ayer wasn't dealing with politics, he would go on walks and hikes. Boardman said she was fortunate enough to accompany him on hikes, including their most recent trek to Peru last summer.
"He had always wanted to go to Machu Picchu ever since he was a child," Boardman said. "[He, his wife and I] hiked for six days over a pass that was 16,000 feet in elevation. It was amazing and wonderful."
Gus Ayer is survived by his wife, Verna; his two sons, Ethan and Eliot; two brothers; one sister; and his parents. Funeral services have yet to be finalized.