(January 20, 2002) -- LB's record setting, flag waving icon, Thomas "Ski" Demski, died yesterday at age 72.
In worsening health but still optimistic just days ago when we last spoke with him, Mr. Demski said he planned to meet with a Beverly Hills cardiologist about his heart condition next week.
Despite his health, he travelled to Oakland last weekend to display one of his flags at a football game. (He laughed off our advice that he not make the trip.)
Mr. Demski returned tired but pleased, and was proud of the warm messages he received after area media (including the LA Times, Beachcomber and PT) reported his condition.
Mr. Demski allowed us to include his email address in our coverage and was gladdened by the email he received. [Thank you, LBReport.com readers.]
When we visited him on January 5, Mr. Demski was planning additional flag waving appearances, including a possible journey to the Salt Lake City Olympics.
He also showed us a glass coffin (which he suggested we photograph, although we refused), explaining he'd made specific plans for the days after his passing. (We'll allow those in charge to announce them in the coming days.)
His encounters with LB City Hall would make good fiction, except they were fact. In 1981, a City Hall staffer claimed Demski needed a permit because his giant flag pole included shiny lettering saying "The Pole," making it a sign (which requires a permit). Demski refused and stared City Hall down. Would they really prosecute him for a misdemeanor, potentially carrying a $500 fine and six months in jail? The brouhaha ended when the City Council changed the law to exempt flag poles from the city's sign ordinance.
In 1988, LB City Hall actually prosecuted Mr. Demski, charging him criminally for refusing to stop flying his giant flag after 10 p.m. City Hall acted after roughly two dozen neighbors complained over the flag's flapping noise; City Hall claimed the resulting decibels violated LB's noise ordinance and ordered Demski to lower the flag at night or face prosecution. (The Press-Telegram editorialized against Demski: "The order is reasonable. It simply requires Demski to follow normal protocol in handling the American flag -- and to demonstrate some courtesy toward his neighbors.")
Mr. Demski refused to accept City Hall's decree and was charged with seven misdemeanor counts that could have brought a maximum of three and a half years in jail and $7,875 in fines. (The case made national news.) A judge eventually threw out City Hall's complaint against Demski.
Demski reacted by running for Mayor. Three times. In one Mayoral candidate debate, Demski appeared with a squawking pet parrot on his shoulder.
Mr. Demski regularly annoyed LB's establishment by speaking his mind no matter what the venue. LB retired Public Safety Advisory Commissioner John Deats recalled for LBReport.com that some years ago, Mr. Demski (a recovering alcoholic) picketed a luncheon held for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) on grounds alcohol was available at a no-host bar adjacent to the event.
"Ski was incensed that some adults were drinking while children were being encouraged not to drink," Deats said. "I greatly admire him for this," Deats added, noting that at subsequent events, the no host bar was gone.
Despite his health, Mr. Demski travelled to New York and "Ground Zero" at the former World Trade Center. He was proud that one of his flags flew from a crane helping in the recovery effort.
Just days ago in her State of the City address, Mayor Beverly O'Neill listed Mr. Demski as among her most enduring memories of 2001:
"The Ski Demskis of the city, with his flag and his passionate patriotism," she said.
Applause from LB's establishment filled the room.