Ovitt served on Paso Robles City Council for 11 years and SLO County Board of Supervisors for 20 years
PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles we know today exists because of people like Harry Ovitt, who lived for his community. A large man in heart and stature, Ovitt loved his community of Paso Robles and beyond, and on Sunday, July 2, he left this world at the age of 78.
Ovitt was a lifelong community servant. Born on Sept. 22, 1945, in Camp Rucker, Alabama, to Harry Luther Ovitt II and Dorothy Virginia Ovitt, he later moved to Paso Robles where he would graduate as a Bearcat and become an Eagle Scout. He would later go on to serve in the Navy and end his hitch as a proud veteran.
When you ask people about Ovitt, they almost all immediately picture him in the old Sears Roebuck store on Park Street, where he used to work.
Current District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold remembers him just like that, behind the catalog counter that she frequented as a new mother. And Paul Viborg, who also remembers first meeting Ovitt in the Sears like so many others. But more importantly than his stint in Sears, people remember Ovitt as a community man.
“Harry was one of the last of a dying breed,” said Viborg, whose father, Ole Viborg, was also close with Ovitt. “He was very much community oriented.”
Ovitt took his love of Paso Robles to serve on the Paso Robles City Council for 11 years and then in 1989 he was elected to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to represent District 1 for 20 years.
Arnold began working closer with Ovitt when she worked as a legislative assistant at the supervisor’s office. “He was a great public servant and he really did care about the community,” she said.
The supervisor’s office is where Ovitt was able to make a larger impact in the county. It is where he met longtime friend Vicki Janssen, who also worked at the Board of Supervisors as a legislative assistant. Later the two would serve on the board for the Law Enforcement Assitance Foundation nonprofit.
“He is a part of the community, and that is what he [took] to every role,” said Janssen of her friend, who others seemed to gravitate to for one reason or another.
Ovitt always enjoyed bringing attention to the county’s agriculture and history. He had a deep appreciation for a life spent in service to the people and natural treasures of San Luis Obispo County. Engaged in over 50 agricultural and professional organizations, his involvement ranged from aviation to aquifers, encompassing all aspects in between. His commitment to SLO County was evident at every turn.
“I always enjoyed and appreciated working with Harry … he cared about this county and the constituents that he served,” said Arnold.
Ovitt’s impact on Paso Robles can still be seen today between the Barney Schwartz Park, the Paso Robles Courthouse, low-income senior housing, and supporting the creation of the North County Sheriff’s substation and two fire stations in Paso Robles.
“I can tell you a million stories about him,” said Viborg, who has fond memories barbecuing and bartending for several community events.
Ovitt, who is also known for his passion and knowledge for Paso Robles history, was an active member of the Pioneer Day Committee. He could often be found stirring beans at the annual Pioneer Day Bean Feed or riding his mule on trail rides or at the Mule Days in Bishop.
“I loved the man,” said Viborg. “He did a lot for Paso Robles and San Miguel.”
I met Harry Ovitt once. He was sitting in a barbershop chair, getting a haircut, while I interviewed the last of the Headhunters barbers just before its closing. Because of Ovitt, I know about the tunnels that once brought outlaws to and from the Paso Robles Inn. Because of him, I got to know a little bit more of that old Paso Robles. The good old days.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Viborg. “In his prime, he did a lot for the community.”
And from his step daughter Karissa San Juan, she says, “Harry, I love you and I will miss you forever. You were the best stepdad a kid could ever ask for.”
Feature Image: Former San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Harry Ovitt serves beans at an undated Pioneer Day Bean Feed. Photo by Dave Skinner