Former Mayor Rosemary Stasek was remembered in Mountain View on Friday in a well-attended memorial service full of praise and poetry.
The event was held in the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, where staffers counted 279 attendees. Among those who spoke about the "Rose of Kabul" was her husband Morne du Preez, her cousin Maria Matheny, city manager Kevin Duggan, state Sen. Joe Simitian and Stasek's friend Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner."
Hosseini said he knew that Stasek was in heaven, with her "smile lighting up the joint."
Stasek died in Afghanistan Sept. 24 from cardiac arrest at age 46. She had been living in Kabul for several years, where she helped women through education and delivered aid through her nonprofit, "A Little Help." Stasek was a City Council member in Mountain View from 1996 to 2004.
City manager Kevin Duggan recalled the first time he saw Stasek, as she was giving a speech at the graduation of the Leadership Mountain View class of 1996.
"I said to myself, this is one impressive young woman," Duggan said.
Stasek decided to run for City Council that same year as "practice," said council member Mike Kasperzak, whose comments were recorded on video along with those of city attorney Michael Martello, both of whom could not attend. She ended up garnering plenty of votes, and beating Kasperzak in the process.
The win was surprising, Duggan said, because "she did not have the traditional background," lacked support of the "usual suspects," had not served on a city commission and had only recently moved to Mountain View.
On top of being a tireless advocate for heritage trees and underserved people, Stasek was a great spokesperson for the city, Duggan said. She worked to bring businesses to Mountain View, including Google, which she saw had great potential even when the company was still relatively small and looking for a larger campus.
"Rosemary was right," Duggan said. "Google did prove to be a very successful enterprise."
A consequential life
"Like many of you I am struggling to understand why this happened," said Maria Matheny of the death of her cousin. "She had the self-confidence to do absolutely anything."
Stasek held many jobs in her lifetime, from worker on a road construction crew in the U.S. to bartender in Kabul. In Mountain View, she was a network engineer and a Web site designer, among other things.
Matheny said she was best friends with Stasek, and recalled good times when her cousin would visit her in San Francisco to enjoy the nightlife. But Stasek was always proud to be a Mountain View resident, and would tell Matheny in their regular phone conversations that she was enjoying "another beautiful day in Mountain View paradise."
"She was a suburban politician with a nose stud," said state Senator Joe Simitian. "I still don't know how she pulled that off."
Though Stasek lost her bid for state Assembly in 2004, Simitian said she "was never really defeated."
"She thought that if she could only talk to everyone in her district they would vote for her," Simitian said. The people who met her, including every major newspaper around, "understood she was the real deal."
After the election, Simitian asked Stasek what she would do next, and she answered, "Get a job, get a lover, get a life," which was "short and to the point" -- just like Stasek, Simitian said. And she succeeded in doing all three things.
Stasek's husband, Morne du Preez, said his two years with Stasek were the happiest of his life.
'The Rose of Kabul'
Mark Smith, a contractor who was friends with Stasek and du Preez in Afghanistan, said they had "a true romance forged in the furnace of a war-torn country." Smith wrote a piece about them, "The Rose of Kabul," which was read aloud by Stasek's friend Darin May.
"Morne and Rosemary were a perfect couple and in perfect harmony," Smith wrote. "Their love was such an inspiration in the city of one-night stands, broken relationships and every complication that the heart can endure. Such love flowed from the respect they showed for each other. The sweet words, the gestures, the sweet nothings. We were all jealous of the special place they had found in each other's hearts that continued to grow in the lifeless landscape."
In Afghanistan, Stasek continued her "consequential life," as Simitian put it, by raising money for women's hospitals and schools, and by educating women on such matters as birth control and starting a business.
Carolyn Landis, chair of the group President's Council of Cornell Women, of which Stasek was an alumna, recalled asking a contractor in Afghanistan if he knew Stasek there. His answer was, "Of course, everyone knows Rosemary."
The exact cause of Stasek's death remains a mystery. Friends said she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years before, and was probably not getting proper treatment in Afghanistan.
An online tribute to Rosemary Stasek has been set up at www.stasektribute.com.