PHOENIX — Likely the region's oldest city leader, Mayor Carlos DeBritto has given over a decade of his life to helping govern one of the region's more contentious small towns.
Known for his upturned, white mustache, broad smile and short stature, those who know him say it wasn't uncommon to see the octogenarian serving soup and washing tables at community dinners, hosting community talent shows or volunteering to create city newsletters to be included with the monthly water bill.
DeBritto's decade at City Hall has been marked by everything from redesign efforts for a failing interchange and jump-starting urban renewal to heated discussions about skyrocketing city water rates, police funding and struggles to keep a city manager.
City council members voted unanimously in recent weeks to name a recently constructed band shell, at the city's Blue Heron Park, in DeBritto's honor. Those who know him say the fanfare is far from DeBritto's style but a fitting tribute.
First elected mayor in 2006, DeBritto will step down from the council after four terms — one on council and three as mayor.
Turning 83 this month, the California transplant only recently reduced his hours spent on city business because of health concerns.
In 2006, after four years as council president, his plans were far from small town politics as he announced plans to head for a warm retirement in Arizona. Asked only weeks later to challenge an embattled incumbent mayor, he agreed to offer voters "another option."
Longtime friend Herm Blum, who has known DeBritto both during his own stint on council and in affiliation with various leadership roles at the Ashland Elks Lodge, said DeBritto was always willing to roll up his sleeves and do what needed done.
"I met Carlos about 10 years ago at the Elks Lodge and he's one of the hardest workers you'll ever meet," Blum said.
"He's done a lot for the community of Phoenix. Besides being just a hell of a nice guy, Carlos is very straightforward. With him, there's a fine line of staying on top of things and he was right on top of that line. If something has needed done, he got it done."
Jan DeBritto said the naming of the new band shell was something DeBritto was touched to learn about. Because of his health issues, DeBritto was unable to be interviewed.
Some of his favorite projects over the years, she noted, were coordinating the city's first Cinco de Mayo event, a centennial parade in 2010 and an effort to name city spaces after important citizens.
"All I can say is I'm thrilled because he has tried hard to promote the artistic and musical talents here in the area," she said.
"Carlos is one that if it's something he believes in, he'll give 150 percent and do everything that's in his power to see it through to a successful completion, sometimes he even does this to his own detriment."
An admitted critic of City Hall, former council member Mike Stitt said even those who had varying opinions on city issues would be hard-pressed to find flaws in DeBritto's job as mayor.
"Because he's not one to toot his own horn, I don't think most people realize all the things Carlos and Jan have been involved in. He and Jan put on the centennial parade in 2010 almost single-handedly," Stitt said.
"He showed up at things that no one else from City Hall even knew were going on. Carlos really was a man of the people and he has taken the social aspects of his mayor-hood to levels I don't think we're going to see anyone like him do for quite some time."
Former City Manager Jane Turner, who worked alongside DeBritto for a handful of years, described him as one of the more dedicated mayors she has encountered in decades of city management.
"Whenever we went to meetings, people always greeted him and hugged him. He always had the community at heart and you could tell people really cared about him," Turner said.
"When he was serving food at the community kitchen, I don't think a lot of those people even knew he was the mayor and he was very unassuming. He only cared about taking care of the city."
Having left her role at the city earlier this year after a tumultuous few years of infighting on the council and frustrations with elected officials, Turner has not publicly discussed her departure. But she said this week that DeBritto spent countless hours keeping the city moving forward with humility and a keen sense of humor.
"He sometimes had a tough row to hoe, but he kept his head up and I am honored to have worked beside Carlos," Turner said.
"He is just a wonderful, wonderful human being. He and Jan have been quite a team for the city of Phoenix and it's hard to imagine Phoenix without Carlos at City Hall."
With naming of the band shell only recently approved, city officials are working on details for signs and a dedication.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.