Angela De La Housaye makes public service –
along with family and work – a priority
~ By Angela Hill; photos by Doug Duran.
If there’s one thing Walnut Creek business-law attorney Angela De La Housaye can’t stand, it’s a missed opportunity to do something good – even if it involves something as trivial as Crunch Berries.
A few years ago, when she and her longtime friend Marianne Baldrica were traveling together in Europe, the two encountered an expat who joked that he missed being able to get the sweet Cap’n Crunch cereal. De La Housaye jotted this down – she’s always taking copious notes in journals and datebooks, even on vacation – and when they got home, she mailed him a box.
The same thing happened with a couple of elderly Frenchmen at a Parisian brasserie who had commented on the attractive journal De La Housaye was using. “Oh, I’ll send you one,” she told them. And she did. And just this month, she promised a reporter some special vitamins for tomato plants. Lo and behold, a package showed up in the mail about a week later.
“It would be one thing if she didn’t have anything else to do. But Angela’s the busiest woman on the planet,” said Baldrica, also a busy person as Western vice president for the NASDAQ OMX Group, who has known De La Housaye for about 17 years. “So many people say they’ll do things and never deliver. But Angela has a strong sense of responsibility to be as good as your word. If she says she’s going to do something – no matter how small – she’ll do it.”
And – judging from her litany of accomplishments – no matter how big. De La Housaye is the founding attorney of the business law firm De La Housaye & Associates, with offices in Walnut Creek, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and is considering an office in New York; serves on countless civic and philanthropic groups; and was recently named the 2012 chair of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. She is co-chair of the Contra Costa Council’s Small Business and Entrepreneurial Task Force, served on the board of directors for the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment, and was awarded the “Pace Setter Award for Contra Costa County.”
She’s also been active with the annual East Bay Women’s Conference and co-chaired the Walnut Creek community ice rink project last winter. On top of all this, she has somehow, some way managed to raise three sons with her husband, attend nearly all of the boys’ sporting and school events – she keeps a change of clothes in her car – and still have everyone sit down to a family dinner almost every night at their home in Alamo on the border of Walnut Creek, often cooking the meals herself with fresh vegetables from her own garden.
“I do have a lot of energy,” admits the fit, petite De La Housaye, dressed in a bold black-and-white print dress and sky-high patent pumps, looking fresh as a new morning even after a long Thursday that began – as her days always do – at about 4:30 a.m. with a run or a stop at the gym.
“My thing is, if I see a logical way to connect people, to try to make a difference, it’s hard for me to let that go by,” she says, sipping a glass of Chardonnay at the City Club atop the historic Stock Exchange Tower, where her San Francisco office is housed. “It bothers me if there’s unused potential. I don’t need the credit for whatever we do. I just want to see it get done.”
Delving into her background, it becomes clear how her path led to a legal career and owning her own business. And how she acquired her unflinching sense of responsibility.
De La Housaye grew up in Las Vegas, which she jokes is “much more normal than it sounds.” Her stepfather, whom she calls her dad, was George Foley, district attorney for Clark County in Nevada for many years, practicing law until he died in 2010 at the age of 85. In addition, his four brothers, their father and grandfather were all in the legal profession.
“I was very close to my dad growing up, and I used to go to court with him all the time,” she said. “I would often go to my father’s office, and listen to him talk about cases when he came home. It was a general love of the law that I developed from an early age – a respect for the profession.”
As to her business acumen, De La Housaye believes she inherited that from her mother, who owned a thriving dance studio in Las Vegas.
“Her ambition and drive were motivators for me,” she said. “My mom was single in a time when women had certain types of jobs or a husband. She broke that mold and didn’t look back. She had a lot of pride in owning her own business, which was something I respected.”
Angela De La Housaye, right, and close friend Marianne Baldrica. The women have known each other for 17 years.
Despite these early career directives, De La Housaye first toyed with the idea of going into broadcast journalism, even majoring in communications at Pepperdine University. Then she began to realize that profession “would have a rather limited shelf life,” she says. “I wanted something to carry me through for years to come, and also take advantage of my background.” So she shifted into law, earning her degree from Loyola Law School in 1989.
Her career began at a large firm in Los Angeles, but the size of the operation meant an associate attorney was far removed from the client, and she craved a more personal approach. She eventually moved to a smaller firm, where she became a partner. But by then she was married – she’d met her husband in college – had two kids with a third on the way and felt that office didn’t encourage family priorities.
So, she set up her own shop in 2000 in Los Angeles, eventually moving to the Bay Area when her husband’s father, who lived here, was ill. She soon opened the Walnut Creek office, which is the firm’s main office, then the San Francisco branch. She describes her company as a “boutique firm,” with five attorneys, one paralegal and support staff of four.
Feeling the need to give back to the community, she immersed herself in civic activities, joining the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Now as Chamber president, De La Housaye says she’s looking at ways to provide more assistance to large businesses with local headquarters through things such as human-resource training, seminars and networking events for the “millennium generation,” she says.
The ice rink project, which she co-chaired with attorney and member of the Walnut Creek planning commission Neil Gerstner, was a highlight last winter, she says.
“It’s really down in the community where the heartbeat is. Little kids and old people out there skating – it was great to see that. Plus,” she says, laughing, “I learned all this stuff about coils and gaskets and coolants. And I hate cold weather, but I would throw on a parka and go down there at 5 a.m. to meet Neil and see if the ice was freezing.”
Gerstner says he finds De La Housaye to be a genuinely nice person as well as someone who is “so well-organized and has so much energy.”
“She was never reluctant to roll up her sleeves and do whatever needed to be done, even if that meant performing unglamorous tasks, like manning the food table and passing out slices of free pizza to kids at our children’s winter festival, or participating in a number of early morning troubleshooting and strategy meetings concerning a serious technical issue.
“I also wonder how she finds the time to do all the things she does,” he says.
De La Housaye makes sure her three children learn the value of public service, encouraging them to volunteer in the community. Here Nico, at left, and Dylan flank their mother.
De La Housaye again thanks her parents for her time-management skills, and is passing them on to her sons. Her oldest son, Matthew, 20, is now in college at the University of Washington, planning to go into medicine. Dylan is 18, just graduated from high school and will attend Seattle University. And Nico is 11.
Her boys have not been to court with her, but they have joined her on countless volunteer projects. “Matthew was heavily involved in Boy Scouts, and I became an assistant scout master during that time so I could hike and camp with him,” she says.
“Dylan has worked many of the volunteer projects with me, including working at the Ice Rink Gala as a host for the Chamber’s event, and working at Habitat for Humanity on two building projects that I did with the Contra Costa Council. And Nico, my youngest, worked at the ice rink on opening day.”
Baldrica is certain her friend’s destiny lies in public service. “I can see her being mayor, or perhaps even a congresswoman,” she says. “If anyone can do it, she can. Her only fault is never being able to say no to worthy projects.”
Or even to someone who craves a kid’s cereal.