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A Heartfelt Tribute to Isaac Mejia

Vice Mayor and fellow Lions Club member Ken Ibarra gave the eulogy for Isaac Mejia, owner of Don Pico's and beloved community member, at his funeral this week.

Editor's Note: This eulogy was read by Ken Ibarra, vice mayor and San Bruno Lions Club member, at the funeral service this week for Isaac Mejia.

Good afternoon. I am Ken Ibarra. I am a resident of San Bruno and on behalf of our heartbroken community, I wish to express my deepest sympathies to Lucy, Francesca, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Mejia, Arturo, Martha, Angela, Anabel, Florencia  and the rest of the loving family of Isaac Mejia.

Thank you for the honor and privilege to speak to everyone about my friend Isaac.

Like you, I have not seen Isaac Mejia in over a week. To say that I miss him is the ultimate understatement. He was the proverbial “life of the party.” When he entered the room, it was definitely not in a quiet manner. It was mostly in a smiling and boisterous tone. I witnessed the serious Isaac only when he was in the kitchen, when being confronted by San Bruno’s Building Department during the expansion, and when he felt our Lions Club wasn’t doing enough for the community.

However, to know him like many did—the vibrant, caring and generous Isaac—one would only need to know of three occasions in which I was with him during the last few weeks. But I will get back to that in a moment.

Many of you know me as a member of the San Bruno Lions Club, which is a local service organization that has been helping our community for 70 years.

Isaac, also referred to as Lion Isaac, has been a member of the club for nearly 30 years. I have been a member for 20. However, Lion Isaac only became really active in the club over the past six years, finally serving as club president in 2009-2010. And yes, he is our current Lion of the Year.

During these last six years, our club has thrived—a lot of it due to Lion Isaac’s enthusiasm and hard work. Obviously, most projects or fundraisers that he was involved with entailed cooking food. Whether it was pancakes, hotdogs, hamburgers, burritos, turkey legs, paella or full-blown culinary feasts—the gastronomic-type that involved nearly 10 courses—each was meticulously prepared and extremely delicious.

Food was also an integral part of the success of the forming of the local Leo clubs. They are our Lions-sponsored youth groups first started at Capuchino High School and followed by the Peninsula High Leos and the Parkside Leos.

They were all started by Lion "Smitty" Smith, one of Isaac’s closest friends and “partners in no good.”

The Cap Leos were slow in forming, meeting once a week at lunchtime in various classrooms, with sporadic attendance. One main reason the members were not attending was because they were eating lunch with the rest of the students and neglecting the meetings. Smitty asked Isaac if he could sponsor lunch for the Cap Leos. And for the next few years, Lion Isaac prepared a hearty lunch every Thursday—free of charge. The attendance and participation soared and the Leos remain active and committed to this day. Many of the students and teachers are well aware of Isaac’s generosity and the tasty meals.

One side note: The Rotary-sponsored Interact Club at Cap resented the Cap Leos—losing members because of Don Pico’s lunches.

Another strong trait of Isaac’s was his fashion sense. Always well-dressed, wearing a tie most times when not wearing a chef jacket. He particularly envied Bob Marshall, Sr., our beloved former mayor who earlier this year also unexpectedly died tragically. Bob, also a San Bruno Lion, was not only a fine dresser, but also a colorful ensemble dresser—bright print ties with coordinated patterned shirts, slacks and blazers. Isaac did the same, however, sometimes it appeared a bit reckless…which brings me to recall the last few occasions with Isaac. All involving Lions.

At our last Lions meeting just two weeks ago, Lion Isaac showed up a bit late and was immediately noticed, not for his tardiness, but for his apparel. It was clearly a felony for the fashion police. Picture this: Plaid blazer, checkered slacks, striped shirt—thankfully, a solid-colored tie. All that was missing was the Croc shoes. He was fined for the offense, twice. Once for leaving the house and again for stating that he was emulating Bob Marshall, Sr. His smile during all the ridicule was wide and proud. He laughed right along with us.

Little did we know that it would be the last time that many of us would see him—thank goodness he was the center of attention.

The second occasion actually occurred two weeks earlier. It was another example of his generosity with food. Our club president Rick was concerned about saving club funds and was looking to cancel a meeting at the restaurant—it would save the club about $400. Many of the members were against it, claiming it would hurt morale and hinder our efforts promoting the club projects.

Once it was stated, the familiar interruption of Lion Isaac took the floor. He simply announced that he would prepare and provide the dinner at the next meeting at no cost. The dinner meeting was held at Marshall Realty—the largest attendance of the year. The menu was unforgettable—paella, short ribs and a delectable fruit cobbler—all professionally presented as if we were clients. Isaac modestly accepted our thanks with a broad smile of generosity and pride.

The third and possibly one of the last acts of generosity and kindness by Isaac occurred just a few days before the tragic accident. He had befriended another Lion known for her caring heart. She was Lion Gwen Strain of the Bayview District—Lion Gwen runs a home for the homeless. She also delivers food throughout the community and feeds the homeless weekly. She is affectionately called an angel.

Last month, Lion Gwen’s father died. It was difficult for the family to afford the arrangements for his burial, let alone pay for a decent memorial service. Earlier that week, Isaac found out. Without hesitation, he said he would provide the meal at the memorial services for no charge. One angel to another angel. The services were held on Thursday, two days before he died. Isaac attended the services to pay his respects and make sure the food was just perfect.

Gwen Strain, like many of us, had experienced the heart and compassion of Isaac Mejia.

And one side note. Isaac, a former Marine, was increasing his passion for our veterans and was planning a fundraiser along with Smitty and another dear friend, Lee Johnson, to support our wounded soldiers.

To know Isaac was to go beyond Don Pico's and the rigors and stress of running a family-owned restaurant. Although, I know there are many that frequented the restaurant and were treated as first-class regulars. You received the plate of appetizers and most times, no matter how busy, Isaac would visit with you at your table as if you were the only customer. He was a true host and treated everyone as if he was feeding you in his own home.

Being Isaac Mejia—chef, business man, radio celebrity and community servant—was never easy and yet he never said “no” to the numerous requests to help. It will always be our regret that maybe we asked too much—that maybe we demanded too much of him.

To the contrary. Our biggest regret will be that we do not emulate the spirit of Isaac Mejia. Whether it be generosity and caring, an outspoken compassion or even expressing our individualism by dressing the way we want.

I am so very sad that Isaac will not be in the room with us anymore. That he will no longer be the life of the party. That he will not be leading us in helping our community. That he will not be cooking for us.

But with my sadness is the appreciation that I experienced Isaac Mejia and was one of  his countless friends. That knowing that in losing him was to realize how very special a person he was and how the spirit behind the broad smile will always be in our hearts.

Rest in peace my friend and know that a grateful community will collectively try and take your place to serve others and look after your family.

Cameron Singh September 20, 2012 at 08:25 PM
A very moving eulogy just reading it. It must have been very emotional being at the memorial. Issac was so good to our Capuchino Leos Club providing lunches for the meetings every week. The food that he provided was one of the best foods I've ever eaten. I remember when I was president of the leos club, we planned to have a breakfast fundrasier at Don Pico's. Through lack of my leadership skills and advertisement, we have very few people show up at the breakfast fundraiser. Issac took me aside and gave me a good lecture about how to organize events such as a fundraiser. Issac taught me a lot within the 15-20 minute lecture and it was very eye opening. He was generous enough to take care of the costs for the fundraiser so that we could profit all the money made that morning. Ever since then I have applied those skills to my college life, taking many leadership positions in various organizations and in-class projects, being an effective leader. I will never forget how he lectured me that day. My prayers go out to his family and friends as this was a huge loss to the san bruno community.
joaquin mora September 21, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Para toda la familia mejia solo para desirles que dios les de fortaleza para superar esta gran perdida y tambien que como todos ustedes issac vivira siempre en nuestros corazones. Que dios lo tenga en su santa gloria. Sinseramente. Alfonso Mora y Familia
Karin Cunningham September 22, 2012 at 03:22 AM
I don't know how many people read this but I am really, truly touched...I listened to it at the service and just feel so connected in some way...I can't explain it.
Rosalinda Oropeza Randall September 25, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Mr. Ibarra, your tribute to Isaac Mejia was beautiful. Like many, he made me feel as though we were close friends. It is dispiriting to learn about a person's life at their funeral. God bless Isaac's family. Long live Don Pico's.

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