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'Save the Pothole' campaign champion dies

Graphic artist, “Animal”

Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

A multi-talented and award winning graphic artist, Timothy J. Sullivan may be best remembered for his antics as “Animal” during the Petaluma pothole crisis of 2002.

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Timothy Sullivan

A Petaluma resident for many years, Mr. Sullivan died of lung cancer on May 29, 2013 at the age of 65.

Mr. Sullivan grew up in Pasadena, and as a Vietnam combat veteran, he completed a tour with the 1st and 8th Calvary (airmobile) from 1967 to 1968.

Even from an early age, Mr. Sullivan showed signs of artistic talent. After his time in the military, he moved to Marin County and found work as a graphic designer in San Francisco. He and his wife, Gail, moved to Petaluma in the early 1980s to raise a family.

As a self-proclaimed folk hero known as “Animal,” he helped to bring the poor condition of Petaluma streets to the forefront of the public's awareness with a humorous “Save the Pothole” campaign.

“He would go around spray-painting circles around the potholes just as the city would do when they mark them to be fixed,” said close friend Pierre Miremont. “People would see the circled potholes and call up the city asking when they were going to fix the street.”

Mr. Sullivan came up with the “Save the Pothole” bumper sticker, and not long after that formulated a new idea on how to attract attention to the issue of the city's deteriorating streets.

“We were sitting in his studio one day when the ideas really started to escalate,” said Miremont. “He said he wanted to do signs on Highway 101 at the north and south entrances to Petaluma under the City of Petaluma sign that said, 'Pothole Capital of the World.'”

Miremont, who works at a plastics company, manufactured the signs, which Mr. Sullivan put up.

“It wasn't too long before someone took them down, but not before the papers got hold of the story and people were talking about it,” said Miremont. “The whole thing went ballistic and the story made it onto the TV stations and in the San Francisco Chronicle.”

The pair's antics continued, much to the chagrin of some of Petaluma's City Council members, who responded to the pothole campaign by either ignoring it or attacking it. Miremont said that at one point, members of the City Council tried to get Mr. Sullivan arrested for defacement of public property.

“We both have a wicked, guerilla-warfare sense of humor,” said Miremont. “But what we were doing was pointing out that the city had the money to repair the streets and maintain them, at least they did at the time, but they weren't doing that. Decent roads are one of the basic things people expect of government.”

As for Mr. Sullivan's nickname “animal,” Miremont said he gave him the name not long after they met and became friends.

“He just was,” said Miremont of the nickname. “He had a sense of humor and a high IQ. He was quick with his brain and clever with dealing with people.”

Aside from his pothole painting antics, Mr. Sullivan considered his role as a father the most important part of his life.

“He was always trying to right the wrongs in life,” said his wife, Gail Sullivan. “He was very humanistic and always helping people. He had a very big heart. What you saw of him was who he was. There was never a facade. He was also very creative and talented.”

Mr. Sullivan is survived by his two sons; wife, and a sister.

Private memorial services will be held.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Wounded Warriors Project.

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