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George R. Moscone ’53: A Spirited Pacifican and Pathbreaking Public Servant

Mar 26, 2015

George R. Moscone and University of the Pacific were meant for each other.

Raised by a single working mother in San Francisco’s Marina district, Moscone was the first in his Italian-American family to go to college. After graduating from a private Catholic high school, St. Ignatius, he attended the University of San Francisco, the city’s private Catholic university. He left after one semester and enlisted in the Navy. When his tour was over, he tried Santa Rosa Junior College for a semester. 

Then friends suggested he take a look at Pacific, and the rest is history.

“I loved San Francisco but knew that to grow as a person I would have to leave and see a different part of life,” then-San Francisco Mayor Moscone said in a 1977 interview with Pacific Review, the University’s alumni magazine.

“I had several friends who spoke highly of Pacific, and visiting the campus I was impressed by the beauty, the people and the general atmosphere,” he remembered. “The school was small enough to eliminate my fears of becoming just a number at a large university.”

Pacific had 1,037 students when Moscone transferred in on a basketball scholarship in 1950, and he plunged headlong into campus life. His fraternity brothers elected him president of the Rho Lambda Phi fraternity. He was a member of the student senate. As a commissioner of the campus’s Rally Committee, he helped spark Pacific spirit at football games. The group’s stated goal was “not only to spur the team to victory but also to promote the interest of COP’s many supporters.” 

George Moscone as a Pacific basketball player
Moscone transferred to Pacific on a basketball
scholarship in 1950

A point guard for the Tigers, Moscone was described in the basketball press guide as “The floor leader of the team, George has a nice long shot and is the team boss, directing all of the plays,” according to the Pacific Review article.   

During Moscone’s time, the University encompassed two Stockton campuses– the campus that exists today and a nearby campus known as Stockton College, which would split off to become San Joaquin Delta Community College.  

Moscone took classes at both locations his first semester, then transitioned to College of the Pacific, as it was known then, where he settled on a sociology major. 

He may have encountered another future California leader during his days at Stockton College: Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with César Chávez.  Huerta was earning her teaching credential at Stockton College in those years. 

Another Pacifican destined for greatness, Dave Brubeck ’42, graduated just a decade before Moscone joined the campus. People who worked with Moscone as mayor recall that he remained a Brubeck fan for life, trying to catch the emerging jazz legend whenever he played at a club in the city. 

In the beginning, Pacific and the Central Valley were in some ways exotic to Moscone.

“It was an unusual time to be on campus in many respects,” he told the Pacific Review. “There was the interaction between the veterans and younger students, the fact that it was a coed campus and I was coming out of the Navy after going to an all-boys high school, plus I was from a very urban area and many of the students I met were not.”

Moscone once described himself as a bit of a “scalawag” in his youth. And he may have thrown himself more into sports and student life than class work while at Pacific. “They don’t give grades for socializing, but it is an important part of college,” he acknowledged in the Pacific Review. 

But Pacific allowed him to set his “own pace.” His professors influenced him, and he them. 

Pacific Review article
Moscone, then-mayor of San Francisco. was
featured in the November 1977 Pacific Review

In his conversation with the Pacific Review, the San Francisco mayor remembered the late Professor Harold Jacoby as a person “who took interest and knew me as an individual.” 

And Jacoby remembered Moscone. “Everybody who knew him recognized him as a person of considerable ability,” Jacoby told the alumni magazine. 

By the time Moscone left Pacific, the “scalawag” was prepared to succeed in law school— he chose UC Hastings, in the city that always beckoned him back. He graduated near the top of his class. 

After a brief stint in private practice, Moscone entered the world of politics. In 1967, he was elected to the California Senate, where his colleagues quickly elected him Senate Majority Leader. In 1975, he threw his hat into the San Francisco mayoral race.

Moscone reflected in the Pacific Review article about why he entered politics— saying that one of the reasons “is that I like competition. This is very important to my character.”

In the Senate and as mayor, Moscone led California and San Francisco toward a more tolerant, progressive and inclusive future.

Moscone was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978, having served as mayor for less than three years.  He left behind a wife and four children. Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor and the nation’s first gay elected public official, was slain the same day. 

In many ways, Moscone’s legacy has taken a backseat to the horror of the assassinations. Some today know him only for the convention center that bears his name, or as a footnote to the story of Milk's life. 

But with the gift of his long-lost papers to his alma mater, scholars and others will have an unprecedented opportunity to reexamine his life and legacy-- and give George R. Moscone his full due.