CHICO — Few formal programs have been as successful as creating decision-makers for Chico than Ed McLaughlin, who died this morning.
McLaughlin was widely known as “the bike guy,” executive director of Chico Velo bike organization, and cycling advocate until he was involved in a cycling accident that left him paralyzed.
As friends and acquaintances talked about McLaughlin on today, his ability to advocate for cycling, advocate for Chico and convince individuals they could do the most good in elected office surfaced strongly.
At least four current and former city officials said they sought office because of encouragement from McLaughlin.
“He”s responsible for me being mayor,” said Ann Schwab Thursday morning.
An avid cyclist and co-owner of a downtown Chico bike shop, Schwab was a good friend of McLaughlin”s, saying he had encouraged her to run for City Council.
Schwab said she saw McLaughlin on Tuesday, visiting him in the hospital after he fell out of bed last week. She did not know the cause of his death.
A family email forwarded to the Enterprise-Record said he had come home from the hospital on Wednesday and died early this morning. He was having breathing difficulties.
“These last six months he was the most active he had been since the accident. He was getting around town, and becoming very active with emails,” Schwab said.
A freak accident in 2007 left McLaughlin paralyzed. He was riding with a group of other cyclists through Bidwell Park and smashed into a bollard that was obscured by the group, which pressed together to avoid a pedestrian.
The fork of his cycle broke and he fell to the front, injuring his spine.
He spent months in a Bay Area hospital renown for its back care before returning to Chico. In a wheelchair, he continued his advocacy for cycling, including serving as chair of the city”s Bicycle Advisory Committee, which started in the mid-90s.
“He was the only chair,” said Schwab. “He always said the best way to make change is to advocate.”
Bike shop owner Steve O”Bryan of Pullins Cyclery said his civic involvement, first in the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, was prompted by McLaughlin. He also served on the Chico Planning Commission, the Chico Unified School District board and is vice chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which meets as needed.
O”Bryan remembers a post-election conversation about how many chamber-supported candidates won office, when a high Chico official commented on the more wide-spread success of Chico Velo-supported candidates.
“What Ed did was low key, steady and gradually influencing the powers that be, while seeking the funding that got projects done,” O”Bryan said, noting McLaughlin refused to ask for city funding when other organizations did.
O”Bryan said most of the bike facilities around town bear McLaughlin”s mark.
“Every time you take a bike ride, push a button at a stop or be on a separated bike path, or one with a stripe on the ground, the Mangrove Avenue bike tunnel … know that Ed was heavily involved in that.
“He was the keystone.”
McLaughlin was an ambassador for Chico as well, especially among the national cycling arena. He was involved in calling Bicycle magazine”s attention to Chico, which in 1998 named it the best cycling community in the U.S. Other cycling organizations and publications also acknowledged Chico because of McLaughlin”s efforts.
“It was Ed who first got me involved in governance,” said Chico State University engineering professor Russ Mills, “first with the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission and then with the Chico State academic senate.
“He wasn”t just an advocate for bicyclists, he was an advocate for life. Even after his tragic injury, Ed was still enthusiastic and connected.”
After the accident, friends of McLaughlin created Tour de Ed bike ride as a fundraiser for helping him with care costs, but it was broadened to help any injured cyclist through the nonprofit Chico Cyclists Care Fund created after the first ride.
Friends also remember his wry sense of humor, borne out in costumes he would wear to the Tour de Ed bike event, including an ape, pope and cowboy outfits.
“I don”t know what the significance of those costumes were,” said Schwab, “but that was Ed.”
From New Jersey, he also had a “New Jersey kind of attitude,” O”Bryan said.
Before the accident, McLaughlin had been the executive director of Chico Velo cycling advocacy organization, weighing in on community plans and developments with an eye to the cycling community. He often volunteered for community planning processes, speaking for the cycling community.
He operated a bicycle delivery service and boasted that he didn”t own a car.
“He had vision to see things,” said O”Bryan, who said he met McLaughlin soon after he moved to Chico from Eureka. He worked at the Social Security office and would come into Chico Bicycle, where O”Bryan worked.
“He was overweight and smoked. Someone told him he”d better change his lifestyle so he got into bicycling.”
McLaughlin was involved in expanding the Wildflower Century bike ride, O”Bryan said, which was also noted as one of the country”s best 100-mile ride. This year, the ride, which occurred in April, had to be limited to 4,000 riders, who came from throughout the country.
In 2004, the League of American Bicyclists named Chico one of six bicycle-friendly communities, and McLaughlin was working on increasing Chico”s status with that organization.
He was also an ardent letter writer to the Enterprise-Record, pointing out community issues on cycling, access and other matters that he felt needed to be addressed.
“What I appreciated most was his outlook on life, and his phrases, like he”d say you should examine your career, or what you were doing on a daily basis, then ask ”Are you in a rut or in a groove”,” Schwab said.
“Hopefully he”s on a good bike ride right now,” said O”Bryan.
“Don”t be sad for Ed; be sad for us.”