The first time I met Pete Kanelos was a few years back at a political function. Within the first several seconds of meeting him I was at first startled, then cracking up, and quickly thereafter thinking to myself, “This guy is a real breath of fresh air.” Everything with Pete is vivid, so it’s fitting I remember our first encounter clearly.
Me: Hi, I am Ryan Purdy.
Pete: What? You’re a real person?
Me (startled): Um, yeah, I’m a real person.
Pete: You’re that guy who writes for Rostra.
Me (smile emerging): Yeah, I am.
Pete (commanding the moment and the circle of suits around us): I didn’t think anybody except Barry used their real name on there.”
Me (cracking up): No, it’s really me. I really exist. Not a pseudonym.
Pete (smiling broadly): Nice to meet you Ryan Purdy!
Little did I know those years ago, I would ultimately have the honor of working side by side with Pete in Councilmember Lorie Zapf’s Office.
The Pete I first met some years ago, is the same Pete I have gotten to know well: no pretense, utterly without guile, wears his heart on his sleeve. Pete only comes in an unfiltered style. But Pete doesn’t need a “filter” per se, because he is such an incredible balance of so many other qualities: intelligent (he is practically a walking, talking critical thinking seminar), relentlessly funny, thoughtful, and generous.
Pete keeps you on your toes, but never on edge, with incisive questions and his never ending practical jokes. To know Pete is not to have a Pete story, but to have a multitude of Pete stories. It’s hard to know where to start with his practical jokes, they range from simple to elaborate. This is one of my recent favorites though: One of our Zapf staffers leaves multiple pairs of her heels at the bottom of her office book shelf to have them easily at her disposal. One day Pete took it upon himself to put up signs that said “Shoe Sale” outside her office and put price tags on each pair of shoes. He pulled it off convincingly enough that our staff member with the shoe display got a couple serious inquiries from other 10th floor staffers with regards to shoe sizes and prices.
I showed up at our Coast Guard tour in June wearing a suit. As I was the only Zapf staffer wearing a suit that day, Pete wanted to know if I was a federal agent boarding the boat to look for contraband. He got a lot of mileage out of showing pictures to people of the “secret agent man” boarding the Coast Guard boat. Pete’s eye for the humorous in life never misses a thing.
For all of Pete’s joie de vivre, no one doubts the seriousness with which he approached his job in Councilmember Zapf’s office, ultimately as her Deputy Chief of Staff. He paced the 10th floor consulting with and building relationships with all the Council offices. When he was doing the docket briefing for Zapf, he would religiously take the iPad with all the docket materials on it home, and work on it over the weekend. He would do the same with the audit reports and many other items.
The Wyoming native’s life is ever bit as intriguing as one would expect: Grew up in and around his parents’ Greek restaurant in Wyoming. He graduated from UC San Diego. He worked in government affairs for Wal Mart for many years. He worked for the consulting group Schuman, Hoy, Wear and Associates. He worked in politics in Washington D.C. His whole life he has been part of and involved with the Greek Orthodox Church. Like so many things which Pete devotes himself to, his knowledge of the Church far exceeds that of an ordinary lay person. Most importantly, Pete is a man of great faith. It’s evident in how he carries himself, in how he faces unthinkable adversity with courage and dignity. It’s evident in that trademark smile of his which will not shrink. Pete’s character is reflected in the way he always includes people and pitches in with his time and treasure.
I never pronounced my friend’s last name quite right until several months ago. I would have never known, if someone else had not pointed it out to me. I asked Pete why he never corrected me. He just gave that broad smile of his, “Man, I don’t care. I know who you are talking to.” Pete certainly doesn’t sweat the small stuff and he faces the big stuff gallantly.
Pete’s last day in Councilmember Zapf’s office was in December. He returned to his native Wyoming just this last Sunday. I have it on good authority that he is relaxing, laughing and of course enjoying his family. After three decades of planting roots in San Diego, Pete’s extensive San Diego family already misses him dearly. The Wyoming native who became a San Diego treasure is home, but all too soon.