Former Director James Gomez passes away at 73

James “Jim” Gomez, former director for the California Department of Corrections, passed away Sept. 23, 2022. He was 73. Gomez oversaw the department during its expansion in the 1990s.

A celebration of life will be held Sunday, Nov. 20, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, 500 J St, Sacramento.

“Jim Gomez had a long, impressive career and I worked with him for many decades, particularly in my last years in Sacramento,” former Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., told the Sacramento Bee. “He was someone you could trust and he knew how to get things done.”

James Gomez, former director, portrait with tie and jacket.
James ‘Jim’ Gomez

CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said she admired everything Gomez accomplished during his long career of public service.

“He oversaw the department during a very difficult time and he did it with grace and professionalism. Jim was a mentor and a friend, and everyone he worked with remembers him very fondly. He served the people of this State with the utmost respect and care. Our hearts go out to the Gomez family and friends,” she said.

From 1983 to 1989, he served as the chief deputy director for the California Department of Corrections, before the department was renamed CDCR. He was appointed director in 1991, overseeing the construction of 11 new prisons.

Recollections and remembrances of former director

Dean L. Borg, Director of CDCR’s Facility Planning, Construction and Management Division, said he learned much from Gomez. Borg started his career as an analyst in 1991 in the department’s New Prison Construction Program.

“A highlight of my job was being included in a monthly meeting chaired by Director Gomez where he would be provided construction project updates. Being new to the department, I learned a great deal about the New Prison Construction Program and the department overall. (He) made a point to share information regarding their interactions within the Governor’s Administration and the Legislature. This helped me and other staff better understand and appreciate the role we played within the department,” Borg said.

Gomez’s legacy lives on through leaders he mentored along the way.

“Jim Gomez was a very effective leader and many of the department management who later became mentors for me were themselves mentored by Jim Gomez,” he said. “He was a straightforward, honest and direct individual. Under Jim, people were provided an opportunity to prove themselves and received unwavering support. I am proud to have had the opportunity to learn from him and to have served in the department under his leadership.”

Gomez offered more than mentorship

Dr. Joseph Bick, Director of Health Care Services, admires the way Gomez handled himself during tense situations.

“I first met James Gomez soon after I joined the Department in 1993. At the time, Jim was serving as CDC Director, while I was a freshly minted HIV/AIDS specialist who had moved from Chicago to help build upon the progress being made in the California Medical Facility HIV treatment unit,” he said. “At the time, the Department was under court order to improve HIV care, and Jim had become the target of some very passionate HIV activists. In response, Jim created an HIV Advisory Committee, to which he invited experts and the very people who had been targeting him. Jim attended and actively participated in each meeting.”

Listening and learning

“I was so impressed with how Jim listened respectfully, de-escalated confrontations, insisted upon transparency, and actively engaged the advocates in helping shape our strategies. Jim even committed to covering the expenses of any advocate who wanted to visit any prison at any time to review HIV treatment issues,” Dr. Bick said.

Gomez left an impression on CDCR.

“I learned so much from Jim regarding how to engage with those who feel passionately about the residents who are entrusted to our care – even when we do not entirely agree with them. I have applied these lessons many times over the past 30 years. Jim Gomez left a lasting positive imprint upon both me and this organization, and for this I will always be grateful,” he said.

Legacy goes beyond prison system

Gomez left the department in December 1996 to take on a new role. He was appointed deputy director for the California Public Employees Retirement System, where he remained until 2002.

From there, he went on to lead the California Association of Health Facilities, a trade group for nursing homes. He headed the organization for 15 years, retiring in 2017.

Gomez has strong roots in California. From 1939 until 1969, his father worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, designing many of California’s levees, dams and highways. When his father Amalio passed away in 2004, Gomez credited him with the family’s strong work ethic.

“He believed if you work hard and do your best, this country will take care of you. He really instilled that ethic in all of his children,” he told the Sacramento Bee at the time.

Services have not yet been announced.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

Read more tributes to staff and retirees who have passed away.

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