Former State Assemblyman Howard Wayne died Thursday on his 75th birthday at Scripps Green Hospital after lapsing into a coma, his wife, Mary Lundberg, announced Saturday.
Plans were being made for a private burial service and for a subsequent celebration of Wayne’s life and accomplishments, she said.
Wayne served in the state Assembly for three terms — from 1996 to 2002 — and thereafter returned to his job as an assistant state attorney general focusing on consumer fraud.
After retirement, he continued in public service and was a member of the San Diego County Grand Jury when he took ill. He made an unsuccessful run for the San Diego City Council in 2010.
Wayne’s parents, William and Blanche Wayne, were among the early members of Congregation Beth Tefilah, which later merged with Congregation Adat Ami to become the Ohr Shalom Synagogue. William Wayne was a partner with Holocaust survivor Lou Dunst in the Logan Department Store.
A lifelong Democrat, Wayne served on the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee. He volunteered in many Democratic campaigns, among them the recently successful judgeship bid by former Chula Vista Councilman Tim Nader.
Along with his wife, Mary, he traveled in 2006 to South Africa to help the post-apartheid government establish a new legal system.
While in the Assembly, Wayne served as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and the select Committee on Biotechnology. One of the bills he shepherded into law was to require testing for pollutants caused by runoff along the San Diego County coastline.
He was an opponent of integrating recycled sewage into the city’s water supply, deriding such proposals as “toilet-to-tap” schemes.
In a 1998 interview, Wayne recalled that he was in the slowest reading group in elementary school, but after working with his mother, he excelled at reading and was able to skip a grade.
He entered San Diego State University at age 15, eventually serving as president there of the College Young Democrats. Following graduation, he enrolled at the University of San Diego Law School, where he became an editor of its law review. He joined the state Attorney General’s Office in 1973
He dated his interest in politics to age 11, when a maternal uncle, Hank Freedman, took him one night to the galleries of the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, when John F. Kennedy was nominated for president.
Young Wayne followed the presidential election closely, watching the televised debate between Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
“I knew state by state what electoral votes were: I could make a reasonable guess how they would come out, and one of my happiest days was when JFK won,” he said.
At a meeting of the Kensington College Democratic Club in 1982, he met Lundberg, a former Peace Corps worker in Sierra Leone, who had come to San Diego to head the Peace Corps recruitment office here.
After cuts were made in that program by President Ronald Reagan, she enrolled in law school at the University of California Davis, prompting a long-distance romance. They were married in 1988.
She went to work in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Theirs was a marriage of a Catholic and a Jew — an intermarriage that Wayne said could not have worked if either of them had strong feelings on religious matters. They had no children, with Wayne suggesting that the time for raising a family had passed them by.
Wayne’s interest in politics led him to actively campaign in San Diego in 1988 for having members of the City Council elected by district rather than citywide.
In 1990, Wayne ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat vacated by Lucy Killea when she succeeded Larry Stirling in the state Senate. He was defeated by Mike Gotch.
In 1996, Dede Alpert vacated her Assembly seat in a successful effort to succeed Killea in the state Senate. That opened a path for Wayne’s victory, in which he defeated Republican Tricia Hunter.
While in the state Assembly, Wayne was named alumnus of the year by Hoover High School.
Speaking to the students there, he said: “They had a great public school in San Diego and I was fighting in the Legislature to make public colleges affordable because I wanted them to have opportunity.
“I also told them two things. One, when you get that achievement, you have an obligation to make sure that the ladder of opportunity is there for those who are after you.”
In a football analogy, he said he also told them “their teachers were coaches, their parents and grandparents were cheerleaders, and they were on the field and were the captains of their team. It was really on their shoulders to take advantage of this and use the opportunity.”
Wayne’s survivors, in addition to his wife, include a brother Robert, an attorney in Seattle, Washington, and a large extended family.
Donald H. Harrison is editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World. A version of this report originally appeared in San Diego Jewish World, a member of the San Diego Online News Association.