Former Orange County Assemblyman Mickey Conroy, a Republican whose work assisting military veterans was eclipsed by national notoriety over his proposals to paddle misbehaving youth, died Tuesday of a heart attack at his Santa Ana home. He was 77.
Elected to the Assembly in 1991, he retired in 1996 to make an unsuccessful run for county supervisor. His legislative career was his third, after 21 years in the military and six years as manager of Veterans Charities of Orange County.
As a lawmaker, he was most noticed for proposing in 1996 to end a 10-year ban on corporal punishment in schools. Later that year, he introduced a bill allowing judges to order the paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals by their parents or a bailiff.
Both measures were rejected, but drew widespread attention because they were introduced after the caning of an American youth in Singapore in 1994.
Conroy served in three wars as a Marine and naval aviator. His military service led him to spar in Sacramento with those who opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, charging that former Democratic state Sen. Tom Hayden was unfit for office because of his record as an antiwar protester.
“Helping veterans and active-duty military personnel was Mickey Conroy’s passion,” said his former chief of staff, Pete Conaty.
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) said Conroy was proud of America and its founding values.
“Assemblyman Conroy always tried to do the right thing, even when it wasn’t fashionable,” DeVore said. “He spoke from the heart and told it like it was.”
Conroy’s wife of 49 years, Ann, said her husband was known for his generosity and big heart.
“When he went to Sacramento, he knew the janitors, the state police, the fellows down in the basement, and they loved him,” she said.
“He thought as much of the little guy as he did of the big guy.”
Though he had a ready smile and hearty laugh, Conroy soured on politics, he told The Times in 1997, because of its focus on the negative.
At the time, he was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former aide. A Sacramento jury rejected sexual harassment and battery allegations against Conroy, but found him guilty of inflicting emotional distress on his accuser, Robyn Boyd. She was awarded $386,240, though the state paid a slightly lower amount, $360,000, to settle Conroy’s appeal.
His supervisorial challenger, Todd Spitzer, now an assemblyman, needled Conroy relentlessly during the campaign about the harassment charge.
At a Republican event, after Spitzer made comments in front of Conroy’s wife, Conroy flipped off his challenger, sinking his own election chances.
Born Nov. 1, 1927, in Footedale, Pa., Conroy left home to join the merchant marine in World War II.
He retired as a major in the Marine Corps in 1970 and moved to California.
He was an honored veteran, receiving the first Secretary of the Navy’s Achievement Medal for his work with minorities, according to a list of honors.
He twice was elected president of the Armed Forces Retirees Assn. of California and served as president of the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Assn.
In addition to his wife, Conroy is survived by children Michael and Kathy, and grandchildren Justin, Brandon and Jenna.
A funeral Mass will be held Tuesday at 12:10 p.m. at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. He will be buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.