Mill Valley Mayor Jim Wickham, a fourth-generation, lifelong resident, has volumes of great stories about his life in the 94941. But few encapsulate his impact more than one from his years with the Mill Valley Police Department.
Wickham, who spent 37 years with MVPD, starting at 16 years old with the Police Explorer Program at Tam High, heard colleagues grousing in the 1990s about the number of people they’d pulled over for moving violations who dropped Wickham’s name in an attempt to get the ticket rescinded.
“They were saying that nearly everyone they pulled over said they knew me,” Wickham says with a laugh.
Wickham assumed there was some hyperbole in the gentle ribbing he was getting, until he pulled over a driver by City Hall for running a stop sign by Mill Valley Market.
“I walked up to the car and asked for license and registration, and could immediately see that he was really irritated and upset,” he says. “He looks right at me and says, ‘I know Jim Wickham and I’m going to get a hold of him about this.’ So I pointed to my name on my uniform and he says, ‘What? Oh, man, you’re Jim Wickham.’”
Wickham became mayor in April 2019 as part of the City Council’s traditional rotation among councilmembers, joining his father, former mayor George Wickham, who died in 2010. He sees his role as a natural continuation of what he’s done all his life: leading and spearheading events and programs that harken back to his days as a kid growing up in Mill Valley and reminding his fellow citizens of the power of community.
In his years working foot patrol downtown, Wickham frequently heard complaints from kids that there wasn’t much to do during spring break, so he helped spearhead a bus trip for middle school students down to Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios in southern California.
Over the years, Wickham served on an alphabet soup of community organizations, from Mill Valley Soccer Club and Little League boards to Tam Boosters, Friends of Fields and the Tam 100 Centennial Committee.
But few of Wickham’s initiatives over the years can top his revival of the carnival over Memorial Day weekend. Inspired by his childhood memories of the Mill Valley carnival in the 1960s, Wickham was among those who spearheaded its return in 1996, both to raise money to improve the City’s sports fields and to bolster community spirit.
“(City Manager) Don Hunter looked at like me like I was crazy,” Wickham says. “But I told him that I would manage it and that it would be a great thing for the kids in town. He let me do it.”
The carnival bounced back and forth between the weekends of Memorial Day and Labor Day for many years, running from 1996 to 2004 before it went by the wayside. But in 2010, Wickham’s daughter Lauren, then in middle school, told her dad that she’d heard all these great stories about the carnival and asked him to bring it back.
“So many generations of kids have memories of it – it was a huge part of their lives and marked the beginning of summer,” he says. “It’s one of those thing makes Mill Valley what it is.”
And in true Wickham fashion, he brought the carnival back as a community benefit, making it a fundraiser for Kiddo!, the Mill Valley Community Schools Foundation that supports public school programming like the arts, physical education and technology.
“He just stepped up and created an income source,” Memorial Day Parade organizer Larry “the Hat” Lautzker said at the time. “The carnival is his way of raising energy and making a difference.”
“Jim’s always had the small town community spirit of Mill Valley at heart and supporting the carnivals and parades and those kind of events,” former Mill Valley Fire Chief Jeff Davidson says. “Those are the kinds of things that really life up the community, and he’s always done a great job of making sure those feelings remain alive in a town that’s grown up a little bit in recent years.”
Wickham was born in 1957 and grew up on Manor Drive with his parents and siblings Stephanie and George Jr., attending Park School and what was then Edna Maguire Middle School before heading to Tam, where he graduated in 1975. After he finished with the Explorer program in high school, Wickham was hooked on a career in law enforcement. Some were a bit surprised by that pursuit.
“He’s the one that drove around with the souped up Mustang, hot-rodding all around town,” longtime friend Chris Phibbs says. “And then he became the cop! There’s plenty of irony in that.”
Wickham worked dispatch and parking for MVPD before getting a degree in police science at the College of Marin. He was a foot patrol officer for two years before he entered the Police Academy in Eureka, and MVPD hired him full-time in 1980 when he graduated.
One of Wickham’s first assignments was the school resource officer at Tam High in the early 1980s, an easy transition since he’d been a student there only a few years earlier. Wickham had an office on campus and regularly worked with students across all of Mill Valley’s public schools.
“I enjoyed those years being directly involved with students and helping them work through issues,” he says.
Wickham moved on to doing investigations, and it was during that time that he met his eventual wife Suzie, who was four years behind him at Tam, with an assist from his then partner Craig Keener. The pair stopped by Wienerschnitzel, located on the corner of East Blithedale Ave. and Camino Alto at the time (where La Boulangerie plans to open later this year), for a hot dog. Suzie was working at the counter, and Keener decided to play matchmaker. “He calls her over and says, ‘what are you doing later – you want to go out with this guy?’” Wickham says.
“I almost choked on my hot dog,” he adds. “He set us up on a date, and I wasn’t that serious with my girlfriend at the time. Here we are, 36 years later.”
Wickham rose the ranks to corporal and sergeant and eventually captain, where he oversaw administrative services, parking enforcement and community services and helped launch Mill Valley’s resident sticker parking program (RSVP) program. Wickham retired in 2010, and now works as a senior public safety specialist for PG&E, where he regularly does training for first responders.
“I really had a passion for law enforcement and truly enjoyed living and working in the town where I grew up,” he says. “And now I love to be able to help lead this community as a member of the council.”
Phibbs got to know Wickham well when they served on the board of the MV Soccer Club, and says he was always amazed by how deeply involved he was in town.
“He’s one of those old Millbillies who realizes that you have to give back,” Phibbs says. “He goes above and beyond, and he always has. He really cares about this community, and he’s shown that time and time again.”