On Thursday Aug. 23, 2013, we lost our father and our community lost one of its most unique characters and longtime citizens, John Aurelio Garau. When Dos Equis XX created the “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign they could have easily taken from Garau’s adventures because in many ways he was the most Interesting man in the world.
John (Junior) was born in Los Angeles, on Jan. 8, 1925 to Aurelio Garau Sr., an immigrant from Sardinia, Italy, and Salome’ Blanchard from San Antonio, N.M. His father owned the world renowned Delmonico’s Restaurant and Cotton Club in Los Angeles.
Garau was always extremely proud of his heritage including his great, great grandfather Albino Perez, the appointed Mexican governor of New Mexico in 1835, and Carlos Blanchard a famous wagon train master on the Santa Fe Trail.
Garau was an original in Laguna, at least as original as they come. He was brought to Laguna soon after birth in the late ‘20s. He grew up on the beaches of Laguna and in Carlsbad where he attended Army and Navy Academy, graduating in ’43 where he was given the nick name of Frenchie. Upon graduation, Garau was off to WWII serving in the Army Air Corps and was stationed at the Santa Ana air base prior to going to flight training on the B-24 bomber where he served as a navigator.
After WWII he returned to Laguna and worked as a lifeguard both for the city of Laguna and Avalon on Catalina Island as well as attended USC. Garau was the oldest surviving Laguna Beach lifeguard.
From all the stories I have heard from him and his close friends, he was a hell raiser! He danced many a night away at the casino in Avalon and partied hard on the beaches of Laguna. His fond memories included lifeguard parties at Bette Davis’ house on Woods Cove and being terminated for waterskiing while on lifeguard duty during a busy July 4 weekend. His stories, as most of us know, were endless. He seemed to have been everywhere, done everything and met the most interesting people on the planet. His experiences could have set the stage for his own TV adventure series.
In the mid ‘50s he met and married Priscilla (Sally) Conley and they opened Laguna’s Reef Liquor Store on Coast Highway, which they operated until the ‘70s. They had four children.
After selling the store, Garau opened Reef Realty at Coast Highway and Thalia Street, decorating the office window with a surfing Santa at Christmas. He spent a lot of time with the local surfers at Thalia and St. Ann’s beaches and used to anchor his sailboat off Thalia in summer. He would commute to and from work on his surf board. The Thalia beach crew stored their surfboards under the office building and took advantage of the outdoor shower after a surf session.
In the mid-1980s, Garau began 20 years of world adventures, sailing the western Pacific and Caribbean aboard Celerity with his longtime friends Bob Anderson and Herb Nolan, and traveling from continent to continent.
Garau left on his last great adventure on Thursday Aug. 23, 2013.
He is survived by Jean-Pierre and Susan, and their daughters Aria and Ashlee, of Oregon; Jean-Francois and Kathy and their children Nicole and Chris, of Laguna Niguel; Maria-Christina Salome and Aaron, and their children Isabelle and Annette, of Hailey, Ida.; and Jean-Paul of Sun City.
As a small tribute, we have renamed Garau’s sailboat, his home for 35 years, as the O’Johnny of Laguna Beach.
Memorial services will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 a.m. with a paddle out at The Main Beach Lifeguard Tower. A church services will follow at San Felipe De Jesus Catholic Church in Capo Beach at 11 a.m., succeeded by a bon voyage party at Lucy’s El Patio, also in Capistrano Beach. Family and friends will spread Garau’s remains off the coast of the community that he loved and will be a part of eternally. If you have a boat, you are welcome to join the flotilla.
For more info: visit a Facebook site, https://www.facebook.com/john.garau.1?fref=ts. Pictures or stories are most welcome.