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Brookfield alderman dies after knee surgery

Feb. 8, 2012

Brookfield - The city is mourning the loss of longtime Ald. James A. Garvens, who died Wednesday of complications after having knee replacement surgery Monday, Mayor Steve Ponto said.

"We had no idea this was a life-threatening situation," Ponto said. "It was an incredible shock."

Ponto said Garvens' blood pressure dropped Tuesday, but rallied later in the day.

"His wife went home for the night and then got a call from the hospital to come back because his blood pressure was declining again. He passed away early this morning (Wednesday). . . . I think it was the strain on his heart as a result of the operation. I think the operation itself in terms of replacing the knee went well. It's just that it was too hard on his heart."

Of Brookfield's current aldermen, Garvens, 75, was the longest serving, Ponto said.

He had been an alderman since May 1991, when he was appointed to the Common Council to fill the term of an alderman who resigned. He was then elected to the council in 1992 and won re-election since then, most recently in 2010.

Business experience

"He had a real breadth of business experience. He was a very successful business executive in a lot of different companies," Ponto said. "The perspective of someone who has that much high-level experience in the private sector is particularly helpful to government. It's a hard thing for the city to lose, that kind of wealth of experience."

Ponto notified aldermen and city department heads of Garvens' death by email. The mayor said the council probably will honor Garvens, who represented the 3rd District, at its next meeting on Feb. 21.

Garvens, who was retired, stayed involved in government because being an elected official was "truly a case of him doing something as a public service," Ponto said.

Garvens was described as a devoted family man who loved to spend time with his children and grandchildren at his lake house in northern Wisconsin, said Brookfield City Attorney Karen Flaherty, who has known Garvens since 1994.

"He talked to me a lot about his family. They were the real center of his life. I have a feeling that one of the reasons he decided to go through with the knee surgery was he still wanted to be able to do the fun outdoor things with his grandkids," Flaherty said.

When Garvens ran for election in 1992, he said one of the main issues for the future would be keeping the city's costs in line.

A quiet leader

Over the years, he helped do that as a quiet leader on the council, both Ponto and Flaherty said.

"He was really a great, great man. It's such a loss to Brookfield. He had such good business acumen. He brought a lot of good business and financial sense to the council. He wasn't a verbose person, but when he talked people understood that what he was saying made sense and was logical and reasonable," Flaherty said.

Funeral services have not been set yet.

He is survived by his wife, Lorna, and five children, Flaherty said.

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