During her three-time battle with metastatic breast cancer, former Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan never let her illness stand in the way of living a full life. During her first bout with cancer, she participated in the 2012 Levi’s Stadium groundbreaking despite being in the middle of chemotherapy.
In 2014, she excused herself from a council meeting, saying, “I have a tumor in my spine. I met with my surgeon today, and he insisted on scheduling the surgery tomorrow. He said it’s a wonder I’m still walking around. It’s that serious. But it’s treatable.”
Pat Mahan died Oct. 28 with her family around her. The immediate cause was heart failure, according to her sister Regina “Jeannie” Mahan Visiger.
Pat was a Santa Clara native who attended local schools and graduated from San José State with a teaching certificate in 1974. After a few years in the classroom, she decided on a career change and enrolled in Santa Clara University law school, graduating in 1980. She practiced law locally and continued to practice until the day she died.
“She just kept thinking forward,” said Jeannie.
The week she died, Pat was still restoring her historic home — it had been owned by her grandmother — and was planning a trip to New Orleans for her husband, John Boyles’, birthday.
First elected to the city council in 1994, Pat followed in the footsteps of her father, John Mahan, who served on the city council and as mayor for a total of 11 years in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pat was elected mayor in 2002 and 2006 — the City’s second female mayor — and then returned as a council member in 2010 and again in 2016, serving until health problems forced her to step down in early 2020. The crowd gave her a standing ovation as she left the Council Chambers after announcing her departure.
“I knew Patty since we were on the Historic and Landmarks Commission,” said former council member John McLemore. “That’s 30 political years. We were political opponents twice, but we always had respect for each other. I feel honored to have served with her.”
During her 23 years in public office, Pat’s governing philosophy was moving Santa Clara forward while balancing preservation of the City’s past. She was a master at building consensus on the council and in showing empathy with people and their concerns.
In this, she was a quintessential representative of Santa Clara — a city that often seems torn about whether to be a 19th century pastoral retreat, a mid-20th century sprawling commuter suburb, or a high-density 21st century live-and-work urban center. Pat was expert at balancing these seemingly contradictory goals.
Pat was forward-looking even in her preservation projects. Even the most notable preservation project undertaken by the City during Mahan’s tenure, the Ulistac Natural Area, reflects progressive goals to recreate the indigenous landscapes.
“I am proud that our Council followed the recommendation to turn the land into a natural area,” Pat told The Weekly in 2014, “restoring the flora and fauna of a time before European settlement.”
“We worked together on historic preservation,” said community activist Shirley Odou, an Old Quad resident. “She was very dedicated to historic preservation. She was an excellent person and an excellent mayor.”
During Pat’s time in office, the old Agnews State Hospital became the Oracle office campus and the thriving Rivermark community. A new state-of-the-art Kaiser Medical Center was built. A new, airy high-tech Central Library serving a diverse and growing population replaced an outdated one, and the Northside got its long-promised branch library. Two new supermarkets opened in the formerly retail-starved Northside.
The Target shopping center transformed a dying strip mall into a retail destination. The municipal electric utility has grown into an economic engine for the City, a top “green power” company that’s bringing Santa Clara ever-closer to being self-sufficient in electricity, while still supplying reliable power at low rates.
And when the City was faced with a voting rights lawsuit in 2017, she was one of the few members of Santa Clara’s political establishment to urge a change in the City’s at-large, by-seat council elections, saying that the City government needed to reflect its diverse population, as well as younger generations.
Pat’s single most-remembered legacy will likely be Levi’s Stadium, which she shepherded from what most people at the time thought was a pipe dream to a reality. When asked, though, she would give the credit to other people, including Kevin Moore, as being the prime movers of the stadium effort.
“My condolences go out to Patty Mahan’s family,” 49ers owner Jed York wrote on the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Her leadership made Santa Clara a better place. She was a loving mother above all. I will miss her very much.”
“In my time here,” Pat told The Weekly in 2014, “I endeavored to improve our City, enhance neighborhoods and create growth and opportunity. I want Santa Clara to be a welcoming community, a place where people can afford to live, and keep our City a leader in industry, economy and innovation. We have proven it can be done.”
Those who knew Mahan also knew her passion for shoes.
“We used to love to go to Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls or DSW to shop for shoes,” said Jeannie. “We’d make a day of it, and she made the most amazing finds.”
When first diagnosed with breast cancer, Pat bought a pair of pink cowboy boots.
Pat is survived by her husband, John Boyles, sons Colin and Sean Boyles, and her sisters Jeannie and Bernadette Mahan. Visitation hours will be Friday, Nov. 17 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Lima Family Mortuary 466 North Winchester Blvd, Santa Clara. A funeral mass will be held Saturday, Nov. 18 at 9 a.m. at Mission Santa Clara, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. Reception to follow.