Dr. Adolph "Floyd"Gonella
November 1, 1933 - January 4, 2021
Dr. Floyd Gonella, 87, has departed this world, bequeathing to family, friends and innumerable colleagues and admirers nearly a century of San Francisco Peninsula history and the legacy of more than fifty years developing and improving institutions of public education in the Bay Area.
He and his wife of 42 years, Margaret Taylor, who survives him, have been prominent in San Mateo County philanthropic, government and political circles for several decades, he as former superintendent of the Jefferson Union High School and Ravenswood school districts and as elected County Superintendent of Schools and she as the former director of the San Mateo County Health Services Agency.
Dr. Gonella was born in 1933 in Colma, the son of Amedeo and Margherita Gonella. His father farmed cabbage and artichokes on property later to become the site of Westmoor High School.
His parents were Italian immigrants who lived through the Depression; Italian was his first language. The family —he and brother Raymond — moved to Daly City, where Floyd began first grade at Jefferson Elementary School.
As a youth Floyd worked at August Conci's plant nursery in Daly City, a job that supported him through Jefferson High School and San Francisco State University. His early experience with discrimination against Italians came during World War II, when the government declared them enemy aliens and all Italian families in coastal counties were placed under curfew. Along with other experiences in his youth, his dedication to the oppressed, the underrepresented and the voiceless was nurtured. He often gravitated toward serving disadvantaged and ethnically diverse school districts. Much of his earlier life was influenced by Italian community leaders like Mayors Frank Pacelli and Joe Verducci, who influenced his dedication to the city.
His humble beginnings had developed in him an empathy that forever shaped his personal and professional life and inspired him to pen a chapter called "Sundays in Colma" for Una Storia Segreta, a book written by twenty-three representatives of Daly City and Colma Italian families to document the privations they endured during the war. He also coauthored a book on Alcatraz. Along with his wife, Margaret, he collaborated to create the Daly City Youth Health Center, a valued community resource serving low income teens. The center recently marked 30 years of operation.
Floyd was a connoisseur of character who chose to associate with people of good humor, accomplishment, learning and compassion. His leadership helped some of them become elected. He went against political winds to endorse Jackie Speier for state Assembly and was instrumental again in 2008 when Speier ran successfully for the House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Speier noted his gusto of managing crises, his toughness and the basis for his every professional action: improvement of the education system. He also helped his neighbor, Anna Eshoo, with her supervisorial and congressional campaigns. She has often referred to as her "brother friend" and relied on him for educational policy advice.
Floyd ran unopposed for three four-year terms as County Superintendent of Schools. When retired at noon in 2003, and on the same day, he became superintendent of East Palo Alto's troubled Ravenswood City School District, which was in crisis and insolvent. Thanks to help from city council, community leaders, and school board members, he turned the district around. Ever eager to intervene in a tough challenge, Floyd moved on to the troubled Vallejo City Unified School District, where he partnered with colleague, Superintendent Rick Damelio; they succeeded in rescuing the dysfunctional organization.
Floyd earned a degree in education and several teaching certificates from San Francisco State, where he was also inducted to their Hall of Fame for football, a passion of his from a multi-sport athletic career. He obtained his doctorate in education at the University of California at Berkeley. During his long career in education, including an adjunct professorship at Santa Clara University, he received many awards, from Coach of the Year in 1962 to the Fred Kiesel Distinguished Service Award, to many other awards from state and local educational organizations. He was a member of the California Advisory Council on School Restructuring and was named outstanding alumnus by SF State Education Department. For more than 30 years, he was Team Chair of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and frequently traveled to various Asian countries to accredit schools. In addition, he led the Daly City Chamber of Commerce in an extensive membership drive, as he recognized the need for a vibrant business community.
Among his many board memberships were San Mateo County Child Car Partnership Council, the Criminal Justice Council, the county AIDS Program Community Advisory Committee, the Junior Statesmen Foundation, the First 5 Commission, and the American Heart Association.
In 2003, the County Office of Education honored him by naming its offices as the Floyd Gonella Education Center.
Floyd Gonella will be sorely missed by his wife, Margaret Taylor; his daughter, Michelle Gonella; his son, Michael Gonella (Chelsea) and grandsons, Nick and Alex; and son, Stephen. He is predeceased by his brother, Raymond, and sister-in-law, Milana Gonella. He will be missed by his constant companion, Tina, a rescue Jack Russell terrier, and his late rescue terrier, Abby, and four great Aussies.
The family wishes to thank Ben Newman, for his loving care and support, Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, CEO Janet Wagner and her team for their tireless efforts, and Conrad Vial, MD, and Erin Liu, MD, for their excellent care and advice, and lastly Sutter Care at Home Hospice program.
Private memorial services and a Celebration of Life in Floyd's honor are pending resolution of the Covid crisis.
Donations to Mills-Peninsula Health Services Foundation, 1501 Trousdale Dr., Burlingame, CA 94010, or to Pets in Need, 851 Fifth Ave., Redwood City, CA 94063, would be appreciated by his family.