Toolin’ Around Town: Remembering Tony Brazil
This Toolin’ Around Town column originally ran in July of 2011. At the time, Tony Brazil — who passed away at his home on Aug. 24, 2022 — was celebrating 55 years as a livestock auctioneer. At columnist Harlan Osborne’s suggestion, the Argus-Courier is presenting this archival “encore column” as a tribute to the life and legacy of Tony Brazil.
When the Sonoma County Fair opens on July 27, ready to celebrate its 75th year of showcasing the bountiful best of everything this region produces, one of the fair's most recognizable faces, Tony Brazil, will grab the microphone in the auction ring where he'll entice and cajole bidders to dig deep into their pockets and up their bids to purchase the farm animals raised by local 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America members, just as he's done every year since 1956.
Part salesman, part showman and part ringmaster, Brazil is a man of action, who enjoys the nature of competitive bidding and for three generations has seen virtually every member of local farm families, their smiles and their tears, come through the Fair. It's a nonpaying job, but one the affable 84-year-old relishes for its immeasurable rewards. Over the years he's auctioned farm animals raised by his own children and grandchildren and those of ranching families throughout the county.
"This is one of the nicest fairs anywhere and it's very supportive of FFA and 4-H. I really enjoy it, I do it for the kids, that's my reward," said Brazil, a tireless supporter of beneficial causes who often donates his talents to high schools and local events.
A self-taught auctioneer, Brazil was raised in Marin County where his parents, Azorean immigrants Elias and Maria Brazil, operated an 800-acre dairy farm on the slope of Mt. Tamalpias adjoining the stunningly scenic Muir Woods. After graduating Tamalpias High in 1941, Tony joined his father and older brother, Manuel, on the ranch. In 1948, he purchased an additional 800 acres to what eventually became a 1,900-acre spread. When the dairy industry declined, the two brothers started a beef cattle operation on the property.
In 1960, Tony purchased the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard, built in the 1940s on 26 acres on Corona Road. "I wanted action. I didn't care where it was," said Tony, of the auction yard now operated by his son Manuel. In 1965, he and his wife Theresa, whom he’d met at a Portuguese fiesta and married in 1950, sold the Marin ranch—which became state park land—and together with their six children moved to a 100-acre parcel on Adobe Road, purchased from the Sartori family. On a knoll with panoramic views overlooking Petaluma Valley and Mariano Vallejo’s Adobe, they built a modern ranch-style home.
Their eye-catching residence was once featured as “The Prettiest Place in the Country,” in Farm and Ranch Living magazine. Theresa Brazil, well-known at local fairs and festivals for her prize-winning Portuguese sweet bread, cheesecake, and scrumptious apple pie, has decorated the interior walls of their comfortable home into a treasure trove of family heritage, displaying family photographs, mementos and awards she and Tony have received, along with a can't-miss-it-if-you-tried mounted buffalo head in the family room.
In 1982 the fair honored him with Tony Brazil Day and named a horse race for him. Like many jobs on the continually shrinking agricultural landscape his role as an auctioneer might be considered imperiled. With fewer dairies throughout the state, along with fewer auction yards and slaughterhouses there is less need for men like him. "On Adobe Road alone there were eight dairies in 1960s, now there's just one," laments Brazil.
Whatever the future brings, Tony believes in keeping kids involved. Prior to moving to Petaluma, he coached Little League for seven years and today is the oldest supporter of Petaluma Little League having sponsored the recently crowned city champion Lucky 7 team for the past 51 years.
“Toolin Around Town,” by Harlan Osborne, runs on the second and fourth Fridays of the month in the Argus-Courier. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.