COSTA MESA — Bruce Garlich had something in common with a famous cowboy.
"Will Rogers said, 'I never met a man I didn't like,'" said longtime friend Dave Wensley, of Costa Mesa. "That could have been something Bruce Garlich said."
Garlich, a former Costa Mesa planning commissioner, died March 22 of cancer. He was 74.
A private service was held for the community leader at the Pacific View Memorial Park and Mortuary in Corona del Mar on Friday. Afterward, family and friends met at the Costa Mesa Senior Center to snack on sandwiches, sip wine and laugh while telling old stories about Garlich, who served on the Costa Mesa Planning Commission for six years and ran for City Council twice.
Wensley was Garlich's friend of 50 years. The two met in the early 1960s at Douglas Corp. — later McDonnell Douglas Corp. — in Santa Monica. They lived in the same apartment building and both worked as electrical engineers.
"We became instant friends," Wensley said.
He said Garlich was non-judgmental, accepting and endlessly tolerant.
Garlich grew up mostly in Missouri, but moved around often because his father was in the Air Force. Wensley said those early experiences made Garlich outgoing and jovial.
He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1959 and started working for Douglas Corp. shortly after.
Active in the community, Garlich was also involved in the Costa Mesa Senior Corp., the Boys & Girls Club, Lions Club and other organizations.
At the reception, friends looked at a photo collage of Garlich reading to schoolchildren, working at a fish fry and vacationing with his family.
Longtime friend Paul Bialla, of Santa Rosa, said Garlich's dedication to his late wife, Marietta, showed something significant about him. The two married in 1975, ignoring the social stigma: Garlich was white and Marietta was black.
"It took a person of certain commitment, dedication and upbringing to step into a marriage with a lot of opposition," Bialla said. "That's an attestation to his character. He loved her and stood by her."
Carla Lett, Garlich's niece, lovingly joked that Garlich was the "white sheep" of the family.
"In the end, he became an open, giving, loving, emotional giant in our lives," she said. "I hope my life is that cool."
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Garlich's name to the Harbor Area Boys & Girls Club, P.O. Box 10297, Costa Mesa, CA 92627 or at harborareabgc.com.