‘A Pillar of Wisdom’: Community Mourns Sudden Death of Former California Mayor

By Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times.
February 18, 2022Updated: February 18, 2022

Community leaders are remembering former Laguna Niguel Mayor Robert Ming, 51, who died Feb. 13 in a single-engine plane crash in Kansas, as a man of impeccable ethics with a strong moral compass and a pillar of wisdom that helped change the city he loved.

“When future generations look back at our rich history, Robert will be remembered as one of the most consequential figures to have ever shaped the city,” Laguna Niguel Mayor Elaine Gennawey said on Feb. 15 during a council meeting. “He was not only a public servant but an exemplary leader, a remarkable philanthropist, and a kind and humble soul.”

Others said Ming was a “community icon,” a “respected civic leader,” a “consummate gentleman” and a “leader among leaders.”

Ming was born and raised in Southern California and after graduating with honors from Azusa Pacific University, received a law degree from Pepperdine Law School.

During his law school days, he interned at the California Supreme Court and worked as a research assistant for United States Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.

After graduating as valedictorian of his class and receiving the prestigious American Jurisprudence award—which is given to those with the highest rank in the class for a particular subject—he started his law career as a clerk for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito during the O.J. Simpson trial.

Ming also married his high school sweetheart Susie, around this time, and the two would go on to have four children.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the Ming family)

He was first elected to the Laguna Niguel City Council in 2006; again in 2010 and served as mayor in 2009 and 2013.

He additionally served on the city’s planning commission and on the board of its Chamber of Commerce.

He was the founding president of two non-profits — the Laguna Niguel Military Support Foundation and the Association of California Cities–Orange County and served as Chair of the Revenue and Taxation Policy Committee of the League of California Cities, a Director of the Orange County Vector Control District, and as a Laguna Niguel representative on the board for the 73 Toll Road.

“Each of those pieces of his life bolted together and made perfect sense in their natural progression of exactly who Robert was,” John Mark Jennings, a former Laguna Niguel mayor and city councilman told The Epoch Times. “He was so brilliant that he could do these things but so compassionate that he did them for the right reasons. He was a great example of a thought leader and emotional rudder that every public servant should emulate.”

Former California Sen. John Moorlach, who served with Ming on the Orange County Vector Control District, described Ming as a man who exemplified leadership in capital letters.

Moorlach said Ming somehow made a major metropolitan area like Orange County feel like a small town through his relationships by bringing together a community with different backgrounds.

“Public service is a very rewarding road to take, and [Robert] went well beyond the borders of his city,” Moorlach said. “He represented his district with distinction, always had a warm, contagious smile, and a man who anyone would want in their corner.”

Attorney Stephanie Winstead, who said she met Ming back in the early 2000s after joining the Laguna Niguel Chamber of Commerce, said he encouraged her to get involved in community service by volunteering to sit on a city committee.

Winstead said she especially appreciated that Ming met with community leaders and residents at various restaurants to discuss local issues.

“He wanted people to be informed,” Winstead told The Epoch Times. “So, he challenged people to dig deep, ask questions, and refuse to take anything at face value.”

She added that Ming spoke at high schools about the importance of critical thinking, especially as students come of age to vote.

“Robert was an attorney and a politician, but he did not fall into either of those stereotypes,” she said. “He encouraged people to do better without directing, bullying, or belittling anyone.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the Ming family)

Aside from his career in law and politics, Ming also won numerous awards for volunteerism, served as president for the Laguna Niguel Rotary and Lions clubs, and sat on the boards of the South Coast YMCA, the Saddleback Community College Foundation, and The Bonner Institute for the Advancement of Choral Music, a California non-profit organization he helped form.

Last year he created Thoughtworld.com, an interactive public opinion forum.

In his personal life, Ming directed music at his local church, was chairman of a local Christian school, refereed youth soccer games, and was a skilled pilot.

Ming boarded his single-engine 2012 Piper Aircraft for a 10:20 a.m. solo flight Feb. 13 from Olathe, Kansas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, en route to Orange County.

Local air traffic control reported Ming’s plane failed to take off, crashed, and then caught fire.

Authorities said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Ming is survived by his wife Susie and their four children, Jonathan, Katie, Wesley, and Grant.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the Ming family)

In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations in his memory be sent to South County Outreach, which serves homeless families, and the Laguna Niguel Military Support Foundation.

“Robert was a humble man who never sought credit,” Jennings, Ming’s friend and the former Laguna Niguel mayor and city council member, said. “His family would give credit to other people for all his success, and anything he might have done to impact people was in service to them and not in service to himself. It’s a quality that we’re all going to miss, and our lives will continue to be focused on Robert’s example.”