By all accounts, Albert Hazbun was a hard-working father who pioneered the El Dorado County water recycling system, spending more than a quarter of a century on various committees mostly dealing with water problems in the county.
Hazbun, who died in his El Dorado Hills home on Nov. 13 from leukemia at the age of 77, was highly regarded for his volunteer work, mostly with the El Dorado Irrigation District, giving advice from an engineer’s standpoint. But, even before coming to America, Hazbun was known to be remarkable.
Hazbun’s son, Waleed, and brother-in-law, Tony Mansour, outlined Hazbun’s early life. Born in Bethlehem, Palestine, in 1935, Hazbun went to kindergarten with a future king of Jordan. After finishing school in 1947, Hazbun received a scholarship to go the American University of Beirut School of Engineering, where he received his degree in 1959 at the top of his class.
While there, he was the editor of the Outlook, the school newspaper, said Waleed, who is now an associate professor in the political studies department of his father’s alma mater. It was here, Mansour noted, that Hazbun met Mansour’s sister, Lily, whom he would later marry. Hazbun landed a job in San Francisco just after graduating solely based on the dean’s recommendation, Waleed said.
In the 1960s, Hazbun and his wife had three children — Randa, Maya and Waleed. During that time, Hazbun lived briefly in Brazil. The 1970s saw Hazbun living in Paris, France, and in Athens, Greece. While in Greece, he worked at a Palestinian-owned contractor company, a construction firm, Waleed said. By 1980, he was the general manager, serving Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia — where Hazbun lived for a time — and Iraq.
Around 1987, Hazbun came back to America, moving to El Dorado Hills, Mansour said. Hazbun stayed in a hotel for a year and a half while Mansour recruited him for the Serrano project, with Mansour selling the land for the development.
“He was very instrumental in the early years of Serrano,” said Bill Parker, the developer who bought the land and handled the project. “He was involved in entitlement, in negotiations for almost everything we did.” He said that when the land was bought from Mansour, Hazbun “came along with the property. He was a key to the success.”
The county already had water problems and the new development would only add to them. Hazbun used his engineering background to craft a recycled water system, putting 3,000 houses onto the dual-plumbed system. Hazbun, Mansour said, was the “godfather of the recycled system.”
Doug Leisz, a forester and wine grape grower who was on a water committee with Hazbun for 25 years, noted that Hazbun “reduced water use by two-thirds per house for most homes” that Hazbun worked on. “He brought recycled water to California at a time when water supply was an increasingly problematic situation, 15 to 20 years ago.”
Although Hazbun did work professionally, most of what he did in the county was as a volunteer, Leisz said, but “Albert always did his job. Time after time with supply and demand.” What made Hazbun good at his job was his dedication and being a “thoughtful person and good listener,” Leisz said. “He was not involved in agriculture, but he always listened to my pitch … for irrigation.” Leisz added that Hazbun was “one of those people you meet in life. If you listen to them, you learn a lot. They have a lot to give.”
Hazbun was a member of many committees, mostly concerning water, where he met many people in the county. Jim Abercrombie, general manager of the El Dorado Irrigation District, met Hazbun on a committee while Abercrombie still worked for PG&E and worked with him for many years.
“He was always a friend of the district,” Abercrombie said. “He was always looking to problems for solutions. He advocated for the district, for the ratepayers.” He said that Hazbun “came up with good, creative advice. He was so giving of his time. He’s going to be missed.”
Abercrombie pointed to Resolution 2012-006, which recognized Hazbun for his service and awarded him a plaque, now hanging in the EID office.
Tom Mahach met Hazbun while Mahach was part of the county Planning Commission. “You wouldn’t find a more soft-spoken, gentle person. He was extremely brilliant,” Mahach said. “At meetings, he always seemed to be the peacemaker, with common sense. He was gentle and intelligent…I didn’t know anyone who didn’t respect him.”
While the majority of his volunteer work was focused on the county’s water, Waleed said his father was also a very spiritual man, being member of the Holy Trinity Church. He was a Knight Commander of the Roman Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the five major orders — including the Knights Templar and Kights Hospitaller — created in the Middle Ages. It was a passion of Hazbun’s, said Waleed, to educate Christians in Palestine, “to contribute to their life.” Hazbun was the chairman of the Holy Land Education Committee of the Northwest Region, helping to fundraise for Bethlehem University in Bethlehem.
After he retired, Hazbun “paid attention to Middle Eastern affairs,” Waleed said. Leisz agreed, saying that “he was so compassionate about the problems of Israelis and the Palestinians. He gave me a better understanding of (the situation) than I had. The difficulty of something still not resolved. He was not at all bashful when the U.S. was off-target.”
“For the last five years, he lived in Four Seasons,” Mansour said, referring to the retirement community. There, Mansour said, Hazbun was heavily involved with the community garden. “But whenever there was a problem, we called him to consult.”
Hazbun was diagnosed with leukemia on Jan. 12. “He defied all odds. He fought leukemia for 10 months, he didn’t give in that much. He lived a lot longer than the doctors thought he would live,” Mansour said.
“He was an all-around citizen,” Leisz said. “He was an example of coming from another country and contributing greatly.”
Parker called him “an absolute gentleman,” and said that Hazbun did to El Dorado County years ago “what every other city in the state is just now doing.”
Hazbun is survived by his wife, Lily, his three children Randa, Maya and Waleed and five grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at the Holy Trinity Church at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 16. For more information, check the Green Valley Mortuary Website at greenvalleymortuary.net.