Mario Michael Ghilotti
December 4th, 1922
November 20th, 2010
A lifetime Catholic Christian and Marin resident, Mario accidentally fell down a flight of stairs hustling to the office last Saturday morning. Rushed to Marin General, he never came to and died from severe head trauma. Even though he was approaching his nineties (his 88th birthday was Saturday, Dec. 4th), his zest for life and indomitable spirit and energy will be missed by many, many people.
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He is survived by his wife and life-partner of 50 years, Eva and his two adoring sons, Michael and Dante. He dearly loved his Daughters-in-law, Lisa (Michael) and Mouna (Dante), and their entire families. Rare was a holiday or special event that didn't include all of the branches of the family. He is also survived by eight grandchildren who adored his child-like love of life and incredible humor - Mario, Gino, Angelina, Giovanni, Ava, Grace, Reagan and Roya. He rarely missed one of their Horse Shows, Football, Basketball, Volleyball, and Soccer games. He was extremely proud of each and every one of them.
He is also survived by his sister, Nancy, nephews, Gary, Glen and Richard and nieces Diane and Linda.
He is now reunited with his "little angel" Angela, his parents, James and Amelia and his brothers William, Dino, Babe.
Mario was an original in the construction industry in California. He truly was an Icon, whose integrity and determination was known in the industry beyond state lines. He helped establish, lead and steer Ghilotti Bros., Inc for 60 years, 40 years as co-pilot with his beloved brother Dino, building it into one of the largest and longest licensed construction companies in the state. Over his career, he held every position in the company, from loading cement bags as a teenager, to President of the company. The heartfelt responsibility that he felt he owed to his pre-deceased Parents and Brothers to "keep it going" was like a powerful force of nature.
Mario was never going to retire; he was so passionate about the construction business and Ghilotti Bros., Inc. As such he still came in every day for work and loved working on bid proposals and strategies to do the work cheaper, better and faster than anyone. On Saturdays you could find Mario and Frank Palagi, trusted employee of 56 years, at San Rafael Joe’s after they had left the office, a ritual he maintained for over 40 years.
The company flourished with Mario and Dino as it grew to over 500 employees during the peak years and to four office locations. Such notable projects completed by the firm are Fourth St. Streetscape in San Rafael, Miracle Mile, San Pedro Rd and the site work for the Marin Civic Center, The Village & Vintage Oaks Shopping Centers. Recent notable projects include S.F. International Airport Runway widening, building the Crissy Field Park and Wetlands and the recent completion of the $100 million Highway 101 widening through central San Rafael. Mario was especially satisfied to see the 101 project completed this year, as he considered it the "crown jewel" of his long career.
Mario was born the forth of six children from his Italian immigrant parents James and Amelia Ghilotti on December 4, 1922. He graduated from San Rafael High School in 1943, lettering in Football. He then enlisted in the Navy for the duration of World War II. Mario was extremely proud of the fact that the James Ghilotti house on Fourth Street displayed a banner showing that all four living brothers had enlisted in the military.
He became a rear turret machine gunner on a TBF-Avenger, which was a torpedo dive-bomber. He flew numerous missions off of his jeep carrier, the Nehenta Bay. He saw action in the invasion and support of the Marinanas including the Saipan invasion while with Admiral Hulsey’s third fleet. He also survived the Pacific war’s deadliest typhoon that resulted in the sinking of several ships and severely damaged his carrier.
Mario had a lifelong love of the United States of America, the Military and especially our Veterans. He led the effort for many of the war memorials in Marin County, usually as a major financial donor and builder of the projects, most notably the beautiful Lone Sailor memorial overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito and most of the memorials in front of the Marin Veteran's Auditorium. Just this last year, when he heard that the Marin Jr. ROTC at Novato High School was going to be canceled because of budget cuts, he found out the shortfall for the year and donated the difference saving the Program.
After his Navy service, he first attended College of Marin. When he tried out for football there were 150 players and he started out sixth string. By the time they played their first game he was starting on the line and eventually made the all Northern California team. He always said that no matter what the odds, you had to keep showing up and working as hard as you can and good things will happen. He ended being amongst the first round of inductees to the College of Marin Athletic Hall of Fame.
He went on to play college football for The University of San Francisco. Even though he was only 5’ 9" and weighed 170 pounds, he played amongst some of the greatest football players ever at the linemen position. Their roster included the most eventual NFL Hall-of-Famers and All-pro's to come from one college football team. Unfortunately, he had to leave the team in 1950 because of the failing health of his father and he needed to help the brothers run the company, which they ended up buying shortly before his death. The next year the 1951 Dons went undefeated, untied and uninvited (to a bowl game) and have been called by Sports Illustrated, “The best team you never heard of.” Even after starting his construction career, he still found time to play Semi-Pro for many years with the Petaluma Leghorns, often playing in front of 5,000 fans at home games.
Mario met the love of his life and partner Eva in 1957 and married her in 1961. They purchased property in Nicasio, which became the famed Mar-Ghi Arabian Horse Ranch, managed by Eva. Here is where Mario began his lifelong bond with riding his prized Arabians. They competed in Horse shows throughout the southwest, eventually having two horses make the World’s Top Ten Rankings. An outbreak of rabies decimated the stables and Mario and Eva survived after six months of treatment. Mario and Eva also raised three devoted children on the ranch, Michael, Angela and Dante.
In 1954, Mario talked his brothers into buying a concrete plant in Cloverdale and moving it to San Rafael and naming it Shamrock. Years later, their competitors in the construction business realized fully that no Irishmen owned Shamrock but rather those Italian boys at Ghilotti Bros., causing great disruption to the business. Mario and Dino ended up selling their stock to their brother Babe and two other men they admired greatly, Lee Ceccotti and Lou Della Valle. The company has prospered into one of the largest and most successful materials companies in Northern California. Mario and Dino's business endeavors were not limited to construction, becoming partners in many businesses from cemeteries to golf courses, radio stations, hotels and restaurants. They were even partners in a Women's professional tennis team based in Honolulu, Hawaii called the Hawaii Lei's.
Mario was also a great builder of charitable and civic institutions. He was a founding member, alongside his beloved friend, John Govi, of the Marin Athletic Foundation, where he served on the board until present. He was a founding member of the Marin History Museum, where he served on the board until present. He was a founder of Engineering Contractors Association (ECA). He was a founder of the Associated of Engineering Contractors Employers (AECE). He was a founder of the Golden Gate Arabian Horse Association. He was a driving force in the early years of the Marin Builders Exchange. He was a founding member of an organization fostering better relationships between government and businesses called the Marin Coalition. He gave up on politicians shortly thereafter.
Mario was an early investor for his cherished friend, Bill Murray at the Bank of Marin, where he served on the Board of Directors for many years. He also served on the Board at Westamerica after the merger. He again was an early investor when Bill started up the Bank of Marin for the second time and has taken great pride in watching it continue to flourish.
He was one of the longest serving Rotarians, where he attended every Monday for close to a half-century. He achieved their highest charitable honor, the Paul Harris Fellow. He achieved other Paul Harris Fellows on behalf of his wife, then two boys, then daughters-in-laws, then two grandchildren. He had six to go. Always building.
He was a long-time ardent supporter of Catholic causes, especially Marin Catholic. He donated to various aspects of the school and helped build athletic fields. He was instrumental in the building of the Pope John Paul II Student Activities and Religious Center. He was very pleased to see the completion of it this year and the appreciation of the students and families of Marin Catholic.
Mario was honored with the following accolades: The Rotary Foundation’s Paul Harris Fellow recipient; President in 1958 of the North Bay Chapter of the Engineering & Grading Contractors Association; Founding Member of the Engineering Contractors Association; President in 1977 and Construction Man of the Year in 1980 for the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association; Marin Coalition Lifetime Directorship in June of 1984; William Ghilotti Memorial Contractor of the Year in 1974; San Rafael Christoforo Colombo Club Italian American Citizen of the year in 1982; Founding Member and President in 1990 of the Association of Engineering Construction Employers; Marin Builders Exchange Lou Della Valle Construction Industry Man of the Year Award in 1980.
Mario had several passions and did not waste a day of his life, being as he was of “the Greatest Generation.” His horse rides on Thursdays and Sundays with Patrick McNeil, Gary Boero, and Mike Smith, took them all over the countryside. Once the group logged over 100 trail rides in one year and covered over 10,000 miles of trails in Marin County.
He was a dedicated member of the Sonoma County Trailblazers. Despite being diagnosed with cancer in January, Mario made the annual trek this year in June, receiving the coveted belt buckle for his 50th consecutive ride.
In recent years, as Mario’s office swelled with memorabilia, a museum was set up in another part of the office. World War II books and artifacts adorn the walls with cousin Gary faithfully assembling the numerous plane models that Mario mailed away for a couple times a month.
An avid 49ers and Joe Montana fan, he and Eva attended numerous games and Super Bowls. If you rode in his Ferrari or red Escalade you were likely to hear his favorite entertainer, Frank Sinatra, belting out a tune. One thing is for sure... Mario did it his way.
He rarely missed a grandchild’s sporting event. We will miss the cowboy hat in the stands at MC Football games and that familiar voice yelling, "Knock somebody down"!!
A Rosary will be held on Thursday, December 2nd 6PM at Saint Raphael Catholic Church
1104 Fifth Street, San Rafael, Ca 94901. Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, December 3rd at Saint Raphael’s Church at 11AM.
The Ghilotti family deeply appreciates all of your prayers. In Lieu of flowers the family
Request donations to one of Mario’s favorite charities: The William & Dino Ghilotti
Memorial Foundation. Donations and/or notes of sympathy can be sent to The Ghilotti
Family c/o Ghilotti Bros. Inc. 525 Jacoby Street, San Rafael, Ca 94901. Monte’s Chapel Of The Hills, Family Owned & Operated, San Anselmo(415)453-8440.