Former Livermore Mayor John Marchand was discussing the performing arts when he excused himself to answer another phone, listening for a few seconds before saying he’d call back.
“They’re dealing with a QAnon mayor and she’s looking for my help,” Marchand said, explaining someone in another state was trying to rationalize with a supporter of the debunked political conspiracy.
Perhaps only at the Marchand household can a scientist discussing theater get called for political solutions.
Marchand is no ordinary scientist, politician or thespian. The 67-year-old, who grew up in Hayward, was first elected to the Livermore City Council in 2005 and served as mayor from 2011 until last November, when he was termed out.
“Right now, I’m going through the records of four careers. I’m very fortunate in that everything I’ve done I’m very passionate about.”John Marchand
“For the first time in 51 years, I don’t have a job to go to,” said Marchand, who spent most of his career — at least that one — working as a chemist for the Alameda County Water District before retiring in 2012 to devote time to being mayor.
“Right now, I’m going through the records of four careers. I’m very fortunate in that everything I’ve done I’m very passionate about,” he said.
Those careers include 15 years on the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors and six years as a councilman before becoming mayor. If you include his work acting in the local theater community, it might be five.
Either way, Marchand could be Livermore’s version of the most interesting man in the world. His stories don’t end as much as they merge, crisscross, and land in places like Moscow and Washington D.C.
But they all arrive back in Livermore, one way or another.
A city that ‘steps up’
“Robert Livermore (the 19th Century English rancher for whom the city is named) was known for his kindness and generosity, and I really think that’s baked into the community,” Marchand said. “There are five cities in the Tri-Valley and there are five shelters for disadvantaged people in the Tri-Valley, and they’re all in Livermore. I’m very proud that Livermore steps up.”
Marchand discovered the city as a young chemist with degrees in biology and chemistry, job-hunting in one of the planet’s most scientific places (“Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has been described as the smartest square mile in the world,” Marchand said). He and his wife of 42 years, Sue — a recently retired teacher and artist — moved to Livermore in 1985 and had two sons who are now adults.
The couple met acting in a high school play in Hayward, where Marchand also fell in love with science, getting his first chemistry set from Birdie’s toy store when he was 6. “They had a chemistry area, and I was just fascinated. Then I got into Jacques Cousteau shows.”
Marchand wanted to be an oceanographer, doing stints researching elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park and teaching at the Point Molate Marine Laboratory. A medical condition made scuba diving difficult, so Marchand took his love of water and became a water quality specialist.
“I have yet to find a question about Livermore’s history and geography he cannot answer, a place he doesn’t know, or a Livermore historical figure he cannot identify,” said Vice Mayor Trish Munroe, who served on the city council with Marchand for two years. “When we talk about vineyards, he can explain Livermore’s viticulture. And, of course, when it comes to water, nobody knows it better.”
Marchand also loves talking about Livermorium, the ultimate convergence point of his passion for science and city. The radioactive element — number 116 on the Periodic Table — was jointly discovered more than a decade ago by Lawrence Livermore and Russian scientists. Marchand went to Moscow in 2012 to speak about it to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. One of Marchand’s favorite photos is of him doing vodka shots with noted physicist and Livermorium co-founder Yuri Oganessian.
“I spoke a different language, culturally, but I spoke the same language of science,” Marchand said. “Livermore is one of only six cities in the world to have an element named after it on the Periodic Table.”
His travels have also taken him to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of former First Lady Michelle Obama, as she launched an initiative to fight veteran homelessness in 2014; the same year Marchand convened a mayors’ summit on regional homelessness. Obama said something that stuck with Marchand.
“She said, ‘When a veteran comes home and kisses the ground, he shouldn’t have to sleep on it,’” Marchand said.
Marchand is also known for his running battle with graffiti, for which he carries removal supplies in his truck (he last stopped to clean graffiti off a dumpster two days prior). He’s proud of his work in Livermore’s downtown and on the city’s Drug House Abatement Ordinance, put in place in 2013.
He will continue working on water issues and has started hiking more, saying it may prompt his venture to begin photography.
“I’m looking for my next endeavor to be passionate about,” Marchand said.