He died early Wednesday morning at his Tracy home following an illness of seven months.
Bilbrey served as mayor at a time of major residential, industrial and commercial development.
Criticized by some for overseeing too-rapid growth, he defended the city policies as making certain that Tracy’s growth — which he felt was healthy for the community — was well-planned and adequately financed by development fees and special bond districts.
During his mayoralty, the City Council developed two general plans and established growth-management policies.
He was proud of his role of leading the council to approve a policy that required home builders to work out agreements with local schools to provide funding for new schools required by growing student populations.
During his tenure, the city constructed new police and fire stations, started the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, renovated the central fire station into the fire administration building, completed downtown street-rebuilding projects, built numerous parks, secured a new source of water through an agreement with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and began the process of acquiring the Holly Sugar property north of town, a portion of which has been turned into playing fields and also a regional park.
He was a leader in developing plans and financing for a new City Hall, a project of which he was especially proud.
In February, the plaza in front of City Hall was named Dan Bilbrey Plaza. At the dedication ceremony, he said, “When I left here, everything I did was for the city, and so when I drive around the streets today, the city is like one big trophy to me.”
Commercial development was topped by the opening of the West Valley Mall and completion of the downtown streetscape. A number of warehousing distribution operations were located in Tracy.
Mayor Brent Ives, who was elected to the City Council in 1992 and followed Bilbrey as mayor in 2006, said at the Bilbrey Plaza dedication ceremony, “Dan Bilbrey was an instrumental part of what Tracy is today.”
On hearing of the former mayor’s death, Ives said Bilbrey played a major role leading the council as it was implementing plans for growth.
“It was a contentious period at times, but Dan provided a sense of stability and reason that all of us on the council knew was based on his absolute commitment to do what was best for Tracy,” Ives said.
Bilbrey was born June 13, 1945, in Taft. He graduated from Taft Community College and attended San Jose State University.
He first came to this area during summers of his high school years, when he visited his sister and brother-in-law, Ann and Spencer Lamb, on Union Island north of town.
After he completed six years in Air Force medical services during the Vietnam War, he moved to Tracy in 1967 when he was offered a job as a patrolman with the Tracy Police Department.
While waiting to join the police force, he took a temporary job as an ambulance driver at what was then Tracy Community Memorial Hospital. He liked the work and the hospital and stayed there for more than 30 years, gaining responsibilities before retiring as director of general services.
He was executive director of the Tracy Hospital Foundation for eight years.
Although he chose not to become a regular member of the Tracy Police Department, he served 23 years in the police reserves.
But he loved the municipal government arena best. He was appointed to the city planning commission in 1988 and two years later was elected to the City Council.
After completing a four-year term on the council, he ran for mayor in 1994 and won. He was re-elected to two-year terms five times retiring from the council in 2006.
Bilbrey also served as a member and chairman of the board of the San Joaquin County Council of Governments. He represented Tracy on the five-county Inter-Regional Partnership composed of elected officials on both sides of the Altamont Pass. He was on the board of the San Joaquin Partnership.
Over the years, he was active in the Tracy Sister City Association, Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy, West Side Pioneer Association and Sunrise Rotary.
After retiring, he made a regular morning visit to the Roasted Bean coffee shop for coffee, a doughnut and conversation with friends.
Survivors include his wife of 44 years, Josie Bilbrey of Tracy; a son, John Bilbrey, and his wife, Cecilia, of Tracy; a daughter, Jennifer Williamson, and her husband, Tori, of Tracy; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Also surviving is a brother-in-law, Spencer Lamb of Sonora.
Preceding him in death was a sister, Ann Lamb.
Monday’s service will begin at 10 a.m. at Fry Memorial Chapel, 550 S. Central Avenue. A reception with refreshments will follow at 11 a.m. in the rotunda of City Hall, 333 Civic Center Drive.
Private burial will be in Tracy Cemetery.
The family prefers memorial contributions to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy for the Program for Children With Special Needs, 753 W. Lowell Ave., Tracy, CA 95376; or to Tracy Interfaith Ministries, P.O. Box 404, Tracy, CA 95378-0404.
• Contact Sam Matthews at 830-4234 or email@example.com.