P. J. McNamara: An Entrepreneurial Spirit
By Deborah Zamaria
Patrick Joseph McNamara was born in Martinez on September 15, 1954. He was the last of four children born to Michael Sebastian McNamara and Joan Irene Digardi McNamara. Older sisters are Diane and Katy, and older brother is Dennis.
His father was born at home on December 29, 1909 in a house on Alhambra Avenue that later became Paul’s Place, the popular restaurant that eventually burned. He worked as a Personnel Manager for Union Oil in Rodeo.
Patrick’s mother, Joan Digardi, was born in Sacramento on March 27, 1917. Her family then moved to Oakland and eventually to Martinez, in 1933. Her grandfather Francesco (Frank) Digardi had taken over the winery on Pacheco Blvd., originally the Joost Winery. She had several jobs with the County, first hired by Sheriff Veale and eventually retiring from Medical Social Services at the County Hospital.
Michael and Joan met at a local dance and married at St. Catherine’s. Their first home was at 1534 Castro Street, a house that Michael’s father had built. Michael L. McNamara (Sr.) owned the rest of that block as well. Michael Sr. later sold the big house to Dr. Merrithew, who opened a birthing clinic in it and later sold the house to Paul Pagnini, who opened the restaurant. Pagnini owned the rest of the block by that time and wanted this house as well.
Michael McNamara, at his father’s insistence, was enrolled in St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park for a number of years, the cultural expectation being that the youngest son in an Irish family would be “given to the church.” Michael was not happy with this arrangement. Fate intervened when his appendix burst. Upon Michael’s recovery, his older brother Jim, who pitched for the Washington Senators baseball team, forcefully and steadfastly prevailed upon their father that Michael leave the seminary and finish his senior year at Alhambra High School. His seminary education had been quite thorough, and as a result, Michael was far ahead of his class.
After selling the Castro Street house, the family moved in 1955 to 709 Lafayette Street. After a fairly typical childhood, playing in the streets and hills around Martinez, Patrick graduated from Alhambra High School in 1972. In August of 1973 he enlisted in the Army with three close neighborhood friends, Gary Travers, David Rice, and Bill D’Atri. He did his Basic Training at Fort Ord, California; Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia; and was stationed in Vicenza, Italy in the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team for the next four years. While there, his battalion did a lot of cross-training with the NATO allies. They were the American contingent of a NATO airborne strike force. He was able to travel through Europe a great deal during his tenure there.
Upon returning home, he worked for the City of Lafayette for a while, doing landscaping, and found that he really enjoyed it. To pursue this interest, he enrolled at Diablo Valley College in the Horticulture program on the GI Bill. He received an AA through DVC in 1981. After DVC he worked for a landscaping company, and then a property management company, thoroughly enjoying his job. He had a great deal of responsibility, with good pay, and the camaraderie with his co-workers was excellent. However, nothing lasts forever, and the company headquarters was going to move to Houston.
The CFO of the company approached Pat and suggested he start his own landscaping business, so on January 16, 1986 he went to San Francisco to the headquarters of AMP Property Services with a letter of resignation and a contract to maintain the properties he had been previously employed to maintain. They sold him a truck and equipment for $5,000 with a 12-month interest-free loan and Pat was on a new path. It was pretty intense pressure for eight months while he scrambled to build a client base, but for the past 32 years he has been the owner of PJ McNamara, Inc. Landscape Contractors, doing commercial, industrial, and civil grounds maintenance in and around the Bay Area.
Pat credits both sets of grandparents for this entrepreneurial spirit. Three of the four were immigrants. Sicilian grandfather Digardi, during Prohibition, sold cornhusks to restaurants to make tamales. During that time he also sold “grape juice” with a clever caveat, warning the customer to avoid certain steps, essentially giving them a disguised recipe to make wine.
Grandfather McNamara had come west from Elizabeth, New Jersey around 1900 after marrying his wife, Helen. He emigrated from near Ennis, County Clare, Ireland. She emigrated from 29 Marrowbone Lane, a slum area near the Jameson-owned Marrowbone Distillery in Dublin. His job at Mountain Copper Company was waiting for him in Martinez. He later worked at the Cowell Cement Plant between Concord and Clayton (Cowell was its own company town at that time). He quickly ran afoul of the management at Cowell by investing in his own auto, with which he shopped in nearby Concord, circumventing the company store rules. After his falling out with Cowell management, the family returned to Martinez for good.
Pat describes his grandfather McNamara as a stubborn “tough guy” who believed in hard work and opportunism. It’s because of his grandparents McNamara and their citizenship in Ireland that Pat has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland.
Pat and his wife, Lucy, a native of Venezuela and dual citizen of Spain, currently live in Martinez with Lucy’s daughter, Sofia Gomez. Pat’s son, Sean Sebastian McNamara, lives in Martinez as well. Sean is studying software development.
Martinez Historical Society
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