Back when he was a student at Mountain View High School and a lowly intern at the Voice, Jose Antonio Vargas relied heavily on his friend and mentor Rich Fischer, who was superintendent of the school district at the time.
Even after he won a Pulitzer Prize for his innovative coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre and had moved on to a coveted political beat at the Washington Post, Vargas relied on Fischer, calling him for advice on what to wear on a pheasant-hunting trip with then-Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.
Fischer would know just what to wear hunting, Vargas told a small audience attending a Mountain View Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week.
Phone calls like that are not unusual, Vargas said. On another occasion, Fischer received a call after Vargas had a problem pumping gas into his rental car, somehow costing the Post $2,000.
"My first phone call was to Rich after I put $25 worth of diesel in a rental car," Vargas said during his July 23 talk in Palo Alto. "He has been a father in a city that has been my community," he added.
After the Virginia Tech massacre last spring, Vargas was watching the news and saw a short interview with a student who had witnessed the shootings. Vargas found the student on Facebook, a social networking site that allows users to search people's personal profiles. The two started chatting online, and then on the phone. This coverage helped the Post win a Pulitzer for its collective coverage of how students used the Internet to communicate during the massacre.
"I felt a little dirty, but I am a reporter, I am supposed to connect people," Vargas said.
Former Superintendent Fischer introduced Vargas before the talk, saying he had "become part of the Fischer family."
"He has been on numerous Fischer vacations," he said.
The two met after Vargas joined the Mountain View-Los Altos district school board as a student representative. Judy Hannemann, who is now the president of the school board, said she sat next to Vargas during the meetings, and she and Fischer were both impressed with the adversity Vargas had overcome to be there.
As a boy, he arrived here from the Philippines, speaking no English. His language restrictions placed him in first grade, several grade levels behind his age group, but he quickly accelerated.
"I told Rich, I think we have our poster boy for English language learners, and how things can change for one person," Hannemann told the Voice. "We have been friends ever since."
Vargas, who calls Mountain View his home, returned last week to discuss a different type of community: online social networking. He has appeared on CNN and elsewhere, but said he was very nervous to be up in front of former classmates and educators.
"I think about this whenever I am on TV -- OK, relax your eyebrows," Vargas said. "But everyone who made Mountain View home is here."