Donald Bruce Orosco
March 18, 1944 - May 28, 2020
Donald Orosco was a maverick of vintage motorsport, icon of retail real estate, great father, and all-around hero. Don lived 29 courageous years with bone marrow cancer as multiple myeloma’s longest living survivor. Two months after his 76th birthday, Don left his body to become truly larger than life.
Don was born in 1944 to Josephine Orosco, an elementary school receptionist with an ear-to-ear smile, and Louis Orosco, a produce vendor with a penchant for storytelling. The younger of two boys, Don grew up in El Cerrito where paper routes paid for go-karts ordered out of comic books. Don’s adolescence chronicled the origins of American hot rodding. At age 14, Don began restoring his first Model A Ford. Upon earning his learner’s permit Don and his mother were cited for cruising the streets of Richmond (mom hiding in the back). After organizing his share of clandestine drag races, Don graduated from Harry Ells High School in 1961.
At UC Berkeley, Don was king of revelry as Social Chair at Theta Delta Chi fraternity. After graduating from Cal in 1966 with a degree in Economics, Don went to work as a salesman for Xerox. Promotions took him to Fresno in 1970 where, in 1972, he joined Coldwell Banker as a commercial real estate broker. In 1976 Don launched his own company, DBO Development. DBO (later, ‘The Orosco Group’) became known for building well-designed shopping centers throughout California’s Central Valley and Central Coast, including Sand City’s Edgewater, Stone Creek Village, and Seaside City Center.
Don got his first taste of road racing in 1976 and set a goal: upon completing each real estate project he’d reward himself with a ‘trophy’. Decades later, Don’s trophy case represented one of California’s most noteworthy collections of hot rods, and sports race cars from the 50s and 60s. Pioneer of the ‘barn find’, Don unearthed monumental classics including his tour-de-force: the 1957 Reventlow Scarab.
Don was an absolute terror on a racetrack. He perpetuated the Scarab’s legacy by winning nearly every race he finished from coast to coast. In Europe Don lived out his childhood dream, befriending racing legends like Stirling Moss, and competing at circuits such as Silverstone, the Nürburgring, Monaco, Spa, and Goodwood. Don’s six times driving Italy’s famed ‘Mille Miglia’ 1000-mile rally included three with his sons as co-drivers. After competing in the Historic Automobile Races at Laguna Seca for years, Don moved his family and business to the Monterey Peninsula in 1990. Don retired from racing at age 71 after winning his last six races and setting his fastest lap time.
Don was pivotal in elevating hot rods as a form of moving art and thrice captured First Place at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. But Don never let the accolades go to his head. He was equally as happy at a Turlock swap meet as at the Monaco Historique. A true gentleman, Don volunteered his time freely in long conversations with automotive aficionados from all walks of life.
Don was 47 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given two years to live. But Don had no ‘quit’ in him. Don was a warrior. Throughout his life, he demonstrated profound inner strength and dogged determination to persevere. He and his doctors bravely experimented with new protocols, which are now helping multiple myeloma patients today. Amid his battle with the disease, Don routinely went out of his way to help fellow cancer patients with a message of hope and self-actualization. His ‘can do’ attitude was infectious.
Don married his college sweetheart, Mary Kay Webber in 1968. Together they raised three sons whom they taught to look after each other and live with conviction. Don’s strength made them feel safe, his intelligence taught them to think for themselves, his lofty standards pushed them to reach beyond their limits, and his love of family inspired seven grandchildren. Don and Mary Kay separated in 2009.
Don went on to marry his best friend and soulmate Kelley Carpenter, with whom he shared many joy-filled years.
In all circles, Don was loved for his wicked sense of humor and a knack for mischief. Favorite memories among his sons include Don yelling “Rémy Julienne!!!” (the French stunt driver) just before hitting the gas and yanking the wheel of the family Wagoneer, sending it pirouetting across frozen parking lots into snowy embankments. He never missed an opportunity to invite laughter into the lives of others. Don had a wild, indomitable spirit. He lit a fire in all he touched.
Don is survived by his wife Kelley; his sons and their wives: Patrick (Mandy), Chris (Lisa), Brian (Michele); his grandchildren Élan, Reid, Briggs, Tyler, Xander, Josephine and Luci; his former wife Mary Kay; and his brother James.
Those wishing to honor his memory may consider supporting multiple myeloma research via The Don Orosco Tribute Fund at The City of Hope (866) 683-4673. Plans for a celebration of life are pending.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Jun. 26 to Jun. 28, 2020.