John K. Geoghegan dead at 75

John K. Geoghegan, former state cabinet secretary and business lobbyist, has died fighting prostate cancer. He was eight days shy of his 76th birthday.

Genuine and generous, Geoghegan was s principled straight-shooter both as a state official under Governors Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian and as an advocate for the California Manufacturers Association and, later, the oil industry.

“He was a lovely man. One of the very best,” said Larry Thomas who served with Geoghegan in the Deukmejian administration. “John was full of integrity and optimism.”

Geoghegan was Business, Transportation and Housing cabinet secretary under Deukmejian from 1985 to 1990 supervising 12 departments including Caltrans, Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol.

In 1989, Geoghegan helped Deukmejian successfully sell reluctant Republicans – and voters – on raising the gasoline tax to replenish the state’s empty highway account.

His predecessor as business secretary, Kirk West, described Geoghegan as a “life enhancer” to those who knew him.

During Reagan’s governorship, Geoghegan was director of the Department of Commerce from 1970 until the end of Reagan’s term in January 1975.

He then joined his friend, former Assembly Speaker Bob Monagan at the California Manufacturers Association as the group’s chief lobbyist. He held the job for eight years.

Although ill, Geoghegan spoke at Monagan’s memorial service in January. Geoghegan’s friends say much of what he said of Monagan could be said of him, too.

“He was held in awe before awesome was a household word,” Geoghegan said. “A perfect gentleman. Consistently kind.”

Geoghegan’s son, Jeffrey said one of the last jokes told by his father — who was very proud of being Irish and visited the “home country” in 2006 — was asking the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral. “One less drunk.”

At a celebration of Geoghegan’s life, his brother-in-law, Ben Jackson, said he always could count on “impartial” political advice at election time from Geoghegan.

“I never voted for any commie, pinko, liberal.,” Jackson said.

Born April 5, 1933 in Los Angeles, Geoghegan grew up in Glendale – a basketball player and track team member, medaling in the State meet in 1951. He held the state record in the 440 for one week, Geoghegan’s son Jeffrey said.

He attended Occidental College on a partial track scholarship and then Glendale College before joining the Army Security Agency in 1954.

He met his wife, Faith, a retired Sacramento Superior Court judge, at the University of California at Santa Barbara from which he graduated in 1959 with a degree in political science.

Like many of the more gifted participants in state government, Geoghegan’s interest in public service was whetted by a CORO Foundation internship.

Prior to being tapped by Reagan to head his Department of Commerce, Geoghegan was city manager of Union City.

He left the manufacturers association in 1983 and lobbied for Shell Oil for two years before Deukmejian called him back into public life.

After the Deukmejian administration ended, Geoghegan joined one of Sacramento’s most successful lobbying firms, Kahl-Pownall Advocates, amd remained a cheerful, upbeat fixture in the Capitol until his retirement in 2000.

A 38-year resident of Carmichael, Geoghegan sang in his church choir and was chief umpire of the Carmichael Little League for five years and president of the Carmichael Rams Youth Football team. He loved jazz and routinely erupted in song.

The day before he died, Geoghegan was given a four-leaf clover and warbled, “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover that I’ve overlooked before.”

Geoghegan is survived by Faith, his two sons, Kevin and Jeffrey, two daughters-in-law, Laura and Jannetta, and four grandchildren.

Mass will be held at 11 am on Friday, April 3rd, at St. John the Evangelist Church, 5751 Locust Ave, Carmichael. A Celebration of Life will be held in John’s honor following the burial.

Instead of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Sutter VNA and Hospice, 1836 Sierra Gardens Dr., Ste. 130, Roseville, CA 95661 or Sutter Cancer Center, 2800 L St., Sacramento, CA 95816.



Filed under: California History


  1. Thanks Greg for such a wonderful recollection of John’s life. You’re absolutely right….John was a gentle soul, a fine man, and a gentleman. When I first started in the business in 1973, John, like many others of that time, accepted me despite my lack of experience and took the time to introduce me to the system, the process, and the people who worked there. He always had a smile on his face and honesty in his heart. When he spoke, you listened. He will be greatly missed by me, and by all whose lives he touched.

    Comment by Tom Bone — 4.01.2009 @ 3:36 pm

  2. A very classy guy. I couldn’t agree more, Tom: We need more people like John, not less. xoxox

    Comment by admin — 4.01.2009 @ 4:03 pm

  3. From start to finish, the above sad anouncement so wonderfully describes one of the all time professional good-guys. I had the honor and privelege of working with John while employed by Senator Ralph C. Dills, and of course the one and only Polly C. Gardner. John was a man of great integrity always. There are too many of his ilk passing on. I am touched to have been able to have worked with him. John was the very best!

    Steve Hardy, Director
    California Alcoholic Beverage Control

    Comment by Steve Hardy — 4.01.2009 @ 5:05 pm

  4. John and I met on the 1st day of the Coro Internship in September 1959, we worked on our first asignments together and continued a friendship for almost 50 years. Knowing John was a never ending joy. In my Coro rolls I constantly called him and his response was always- “How can I help?” and he always helped. It was so good to know him and we are all richer for his presence. My love to Faith, his children, grandchildren and all of his many, many friends.

    Comment by Ed Gerber — 4.01.2009 @ 5:37 pm

  5. John was a gentleman, one of the sweetest and gentlest souls I have ever had the pleasure to know, and quick with a smile and a compliment. It was a blessing to know him.

    Comment by Kristin Power — 4.01.2009 @ 6:00 pm

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