East County News Service
February 8, 2023 (Lemon Grove) – Former Lemon Grove City Councilman Tom Clabby passed away on January 22 in the company of family and friends. He served on the Lemon Grove City Council for 14 years from 1994 to 2008, after previously serving on the city’s planning commission. He was the city’s appointed representative to Metropolitan Transit System, providing leadership at the agency.
In a video produced by the Lemon Grove Historical Society for the city’s 40th anniversary, Clabby stated, “It’s been a wonderful experience for me, and the family, to serve this community and I hope that in the future, that we can continue the progress that we have shown that can be done with good help and good leadership.”
According to the Lemon Grove Historical Society, Clabby “left an important footprint in the town.” He and his wife, Dona, graduated from Hoover High and married when they were both 18. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany. Later, he and his wife built their home in the city’s Angelus Heights area with help from the G.I. Bill. Clabby worked as a purchasing manager for Rohr Industries for 40 years.
Retired Councilman Jerry Jones recalls Clabby as “a huge driving force behind the acquisition of the historical Lee House and getting it moved to what is now Treganza Park,” noting that MTS did not want to cut cables to allow the house to be moved over trolley tracks. “I’m not sure that would have happened without Tom.” He also helped rehab the city’s first church as the Parsonage Museum.
Jones credits Clabby with also being a “driving force on the design and building of the Treganza Park. The original plan for that park included a library,” he added. After a bond measure failed and the city couldn’t afford to fund construction and maintenance of a library on the site, Clabby served on the bond oversight committee for the Lemon Grove School District, which ultimately succeeded in passing a school bond that including building a public library on the District’s property.
Councilman George Gastil says, “Tom was a person of great integrity and immense love for his community. He was a voice of reason on the City Council, though sometimes a lonely voice. He put incredible energy into the goal of building a library in downtown Lemon Grove” before finally seeing a library built on the school district site.
After his service on the City Council, he was on the bond oversight committee for the LG School District (for a bond passed in 2008). In that position, Clabby was able to see the library finally get built with money from the school bond.
Throughout his life, he was also an active community volunteer, from coaching early Little League teams as a young father to serving on the first Senior Patrol . As an active Rotary Club member, he helped out at events including Old Time Days, Paint Lemon Grove and Paint Downtown projects in the 1990s. He was also a strong supporter of the Lemon Grove historical Society and Friends of the Library.
Jones credits Tom’s wife, Dona, as a strong ally. “They really were a team,” he says, noting that the couple worked together in their public lives and community services. Jones recalls Clabby as an ally with whom he sometimes had differences. He says of the couple, “I always knew that they loved Lemon Grove as much as I did and always worked to make it a better place.”
Jones says he, along with former Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom, spent the afternoon with Tom Clabby and his family to say goodbye and thank you on the day he passed away. He concludes, “We talked about old times, and of course the city and community we love.”