Holding her husband's hand in a German clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan, former mayor Rosemary Stasek died at age 46 on Sept. 24 after several episodes of cardiac arrest.
Stasek, who served on the City Council from 1996 to 2004, had found a calling in war-torn Afghanistan, where she single-handedly delivered aid to hundreds of people, improved conditions in a women's prison, erected a school in a tent after one was destroyed, and founded the nonprofit "…a little help," among other projects.
She was scheduled to return to the U.S. for a series of public talks beginning Sept. 28. Her friends were shocked to hear the news that she had died. A close friend of Stasek in Mountain View, Dennis Fischette, said that Stasek was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with two years ago.
Friends and colleagues remember her as someone who never let her fears get in the way of her convictions. A favorite story they like to re-tell is one she told them after moving to Kabul: Stasek, they said, ended up using a Kalashnikov rifle to get her Internet service after "roadblock after roadblock."
According to her friends, Stasek drove to a bazaar to find the previous tenant of her new apartment, who had not paid his Internet bill, which prevented the Internet provider from switching her service on. The previous tenant happened to be a member of the Taliban.
In front of a group of people, and with a gun in her hand, she took him away and made him pay the bill so she could get her service. She would later drop him off outside the city so he would have to walk home in embarrassment -- she saw it as a small piece of justice for the Taliban's wrongs against women.
In Mountain View, as a council member, Stasek prioritized making the city a more inclusive place. She was instrumental in obtaining benefits for domestic partners of city employees and in having the city hire its first two female firefighters. She pushed to make sure that a new fire station was designed to accommodate female firefighters.
"She was not a friend of anyone who discriminated," said her friend Paul Lesti. "She stuck to her principles even if it hurt her politically and financially."
"Rosemary was a brilliant politician and strategist," said council member Laura Macias in a post on the Voice's Town Square forum. "She found solutions where there seemed to be none. Rosie was unafraid to wade in where the civic waters were deep and dark. She was also a homey soul who canned, cooked and shared those talents generously."
She was also seen by many as a uniquely "hip" council member who wore a nose stud and went to night clubs in San Francisco.
"She was a rebel with a cause," Lesti said.
Stasek worked hard on an ordinance to preserve the city's historic buildings, though it never passed. She was also an advocate for open space, parks and youth activities, and was an ardent defender of endangered heritage trees. Despite controversies and political battles, city leaders have fond memories of Stasek.
"She was an energetic, committed and extremely talented mayor and council member," said City Manager Kevin Duggan. "Her contributions to this community are many and will be long-lasting. Her service to others, particularly the disadvantaged, has now extended well beyond Mountain View."
Stasek was an underdog candidate for state Assembly in 2004, running against fellow council member and eventual winner Sally Lieber, and the favorite of the Democratic political establishment, Rod Diridon Jr. Close friends had advised her to drop out of the race so Lieber could gain votes, but Stasek refused to give up, Lesti said.
Before permanently moving to Kabul in January 2005, Stasek visited Afghanistan every summer since a 2002 visit with a group of young Bay Area Afghans. "She immediately sees opportunities for women and girls there and completely jumps in," Fischette said.
One of Stasek's first projects was to help manage the famous Kabul Beauty School, which trained women to start their own hair salons. Many went on to make a lot of money, despite violent retribution from controlling husbands, Lesti said. She began writing a book about the school, but it hasn't been published, said council member Mike Kasperzak.
After becoming a master of fundraising and networking, Stasek focused on bringing aid to maternity hospitals, and raised money to address deplorable conditions in a women's prison, which was home to many young women who had run away from arranged marriages.
Stasek found her work in Afghanistan meaningful enough that she did it in the face of significant obstacles. She once told a magazine reporter that she faced intimidating verbal comments from men an average of six times a day. They called her the "American whore," a name that friends say she wore as a badge of honor.
When returning from a summer in Afghanistan to her job on the City Council, she said, "You did not want to be the constituent who called me after the first few weeks of coming back, to complain that your neighbor's wind chimes are too loud," she told an NBC television reporter.
To make a point, Stasek would drive around Kabul by herself, even though she was warned against it. She would sometimes find the tires on her car slashed. In the NBC television news piece on Stasek last year, Stasek is shown driving through the streets of Kabul with no headdress on, smiling and waving at women who are excited to see a woman driving a car. "I want them to see, women can drive," Stasek said.
It was apparent that Stasek would do something special with her life from the start. Fischette said she won numerous speech and debate club tournaments in high school, and was the first member of her family to attend college. She left her home in a small Pennsylvania mining town to attend Cornell University, where she got her bachelor's degree in economics and was on the dean's list.
"She was the most articulate person I've ever heard in my life," said Fischette, who met her at Cornell.
Before coming to Mountain View, she lived in Los Angeles, where she co-founded Catholics for Free Choice and appeared on television as a spokesperson for reproductive rights. Perhaps a precursor to what she would face in Afghanistan, she would receive death threats in response to her activities, Fischette said.
Stasek is survived by her husband, Morne du Preet of South Africa, whom she met in Afghanistan and married two years ago. Thanks to his efforts, Fischette said, Stasek's body has been taken to the town she grew up in, McAdoo, Pa., which is still home to her parents, Patricia and Andrew Stasek.
A memorial service has been scheduled for noon on Oct. 23 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. Flags flew at half-mast at city buildings Friday through Tuesday in memory of Stasek. Those who knew her can record their thoughts and memories about Stasek in a book in the city clerk's office on the third floor of City Hall.
An online tribute to Stasek has been set up by her husband at www.stasektribute.com