Walter Stiern, the dean of the California State Senate when he retired in 1986, who presided over the sprawling 16th State Senate District that ranged from Hanford in Kings County to Pasadena in Los Angeles County and east to Barstow in San Bernardino County, has died at the age of 73.
The Yolo County coroner's office reported Monday that Stiern, a veterinarian who lived in Bakersfield, had died in his sleep while taking a nap early Sunday evening at a friend's home in Davis. An autopsy has been scheduled.
Stiern, a conservative Democrat, inherited the transmogrified 16th District after it was reapportioned in 1982.
He presided over the district--which also included portions of Kern County--for the next four years, opting not to seek reelection in 1986. It was a difficult district to serve, with 95,000 of its then-594,000 residents living in Los Angeles and the rest stretched out 190 miles north to Hanford. When Stiern made his decision, he was the undisputed dean of the Legislature in years of service with 28.
Carried Numerous Measures
Stiern was first elected in 1958 and after taking office in 1959 served on the Senate budget, education, and agriculture committees and carried numerous measures involving schools, including legislation that established a state college in Kern County.
In a statement issued Monday, Gov. George Deukmejian said he was "fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to serve with him for 12 years in the state Senate," where "we looked to him for his leadership especially in areas involving agriculture and educational issues."
Although Stiern had been considered in generally good health during his Senate tenure, he had suffered a mild heart attack in 1976, and was stricken by pneumonia in 1983. Friends said his health continued to deteriorate after he left office, and he contracted pneumonia again early in his retirement.
He underwent cataract surgery last year, during which doctors found aneurysms on his left eye, and he was in Davis awaiting additional eye surgery later this week when he died, relatives said.
Elected to Senate 7 Times
Stiern and his wife had driven to Davis from Bakersfield on Sunday, according to Yolo County Deputy Coroner William Long.
Stiern, who was elected to the Senate seven times, was born in 1914 in San Diego and served in the China-Burma-India theater as an Army veterinarian during World War II. He was the son of a high school teacher.
"Obviously he was a great leader and an outstanding representative," Kern County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Ashburn said. "He was kind of an independent senator and always carried himself with great dignity. He was very responsive to people--he was very much a people person."
In addition to his wife, Stiern is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren. Funeral services were pending.