Fr. Scott Borgman was excited.
Last May, the judicial vicar of the Diocese of Orange won the dean’s award after earning a degree in nonprofit administration from the University of Notre Dame.
He showed off the glass obelisk to Lucy Dunn, a fellow board member of the Orange Catholic Foundation (OCF).
Of all the people to brag to about awards.
LUCY DUNN IN HER OFFICIAL PHOTO AS PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE ORANGE COUNTY BUSINESS COUNCIL (OCBC).
In her garage at her home in Coto de Caza, Dunn – one of Orange County’s most recognizable business leaders over the last several decades, a gifted public speaker with expertise in real estate, law, and government – has boxes full of honors from the dozens of non-profit and other organizations she has worked with as a volunteer, board member and executive.
LUCY DUNN KISSES HER FIRST-BORN GRANDSON EAMONN FANE.
“I’m trying to figure out what to do with all my plaques and awards,” Dunn told Fr. Scott with a wink. “I’m thinking of hiring an artist to design a backyard water feature out of them.”
Dunn wasn’t bragging.
She’s just gotten heaps of awards over the years, mostly while serving as president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council (OCBC) from November 2005 to December 2022. And she simply doesn’t have room to display them all.
LUCY DUNN DURING HER TRIP TO PANAMA CITY.
“I thought that was hilarious,” Fr. Scott recalled. “After she told me that, I just wanted to throw my award away.”
He didn’t, and Dunn has yet to build that fountain – a suggestion of one of her sons, Gerard Fane, a digital marketing specialist in the Bay Area.
LUCY DUNN PERFORMS WITH THE PACIFIC CHORALE.
But Dunn’s collection of honors illustrates how prominent and respected a figure she is in Orange County and throughout the state, having served as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development from May 2004 to November 2005. He appointed her to the California Transportation Commission in 2008 and Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed her to two more terms.
During Dunn’s term on the housing commission, state funds helped incentivize or create more than 72,000 affordable homes and shelter spaces for Californians – one of her proudest accomplishments.
Dunn’s work with the Diocese – she’s been a fixture at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Irvine for nearly three
decades and is the parish’s longest-serving cantor – also has reaped her honors.
In 2014, Bishop Kevin Vann honored her with the Bishop’s Award for Exemplary Business Integrity, one
of two handed out each year at the OCF’s signatures event, the annual Conference on Business & Ethics (at which Dunn, for the second consecutive year, will be serving as emcee this year on April 21).
LUCY DUNN IS PICTURED WITH FELLOW OCF BOARD MEMBERS, INCLUDING BISHOP KEVIN VANN AT THE 2022 CONFERENCE ON BUSINESS & ETHICS.
And in Spring 2020, Bishop Vann asked Dunn to serve on the board of the OCF, whose main function is to raise money to support parishes, Catholic schools and ministries throughout Orange County, as well as special projects on the Christ Cathedral campus.
True to form, Dunn said yes. This is a woman who, a couple of decades ago, was serving on 23 boards
of directors, commissions and advisory boards at the same time – in addition to working full time.
Having retired from the OCBC a little more than a year ago (she retains the title of CEO emeritus), Dunn’s now down to “only” eight.
“When I work with organizations,” she explained, “I want to develop a reservoir of good will – not just to
advance the OCBC’s mission or my own mission.
“I volunteer to help other non-profits succeed. I love doing that.”
LUCY DUNN ADDRESSES ATTENDEES DURING THE 2022 ORANGE CATHOLIC FOUNDATION CONFERENCE ON BUSINESS & ETHICS.
Dunn sips a cup of black coffee ahead of a late-afternoon appointment in Irvine – not far from St. Elizabeth
Ann Seton parish. Officially retired, she’s getting in a lot of traveling as she ponders Act IV of her career (she has been, roughly for 16 years each, a general practice attorney, an in-house attorney for homebuilding companies and leader of the OCBC).
“Right now, I’m kind of doing revenge travel after all the COVID restrictions,” Dunn says with her signature
Last year, she traveled through the Panama Canal and soon will leave on a trip to search for the Northern Lights from London to Bergen, Norway. She just got back from Santa Fe, N.M., and soon will visit her grandchildren in the Bay Area (she has three, ages 10 months to 3). In addition to Gerard, Dunn has another married son, Edward Fane, a deputy sheriff for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
Born in New Jersey to Irish Catholic parents, the oldest of six children to a father who moved around a lot chasing defense industry contracts, Dunn also has lived in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia.
She settled in Orange County for good when she was a junior in high school. Initially planning to become a teacher, Dunn was a member of Mission Viejo High School’s first graduating class in 1971, living with friends in Orange and commuting to and from school after her family moved back to the East Coast.
She worked during high school watching children for family friends and after she graduated landed a job as a legal secretary trainee, despite having marginal typing skills.
Dunn worked for a small firm specializing in eminent domain law while attending Cal State Fullerton, where she graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“Someone kicked me in the behind and said I should go to law school,” Dunn said.
While taking classes at night at Western State University College of Law, Dunn started her own paralegal business. In that role, she helped attorneys from several L.A. and O.C. law firms on law and motion, trial briefs and general law practice issues.
After she earned her law degree in 1981, graduating in the top 20% of her class and then passing the State Bar exam on her first try, Dunn switched her shingle to “attorney.”
Six years later, she went in house as general counsel at homebuilder Signal Landmark, where she leaded the effort to settle 10-year litigation to protect the Bolsa Chica wetlands. She was the first woman on Signal Landmark’s board of directors and became the first female president of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.
Dunn also worked for the Koll Co. and Hearthside Homes before joining, in 2005, the nonprofit OCBC, which champions area businesses while working to enhance the quality of life for county residents.
Longtime Orange County media and communications veteran Steve Churm, who served as OCBC Board Chair with Dunn and has known her for more than two decades, says she has paved the way for women in business and politics in the region and across the state.
“If you were to ask me to describe her, I would use three words,” Churm said. “No. 1, she’s a convener – it’s one of her true God-given skills, bringing people on opposing sides of issues together. Secondly, she’s consequential – when she gets involved, there’s usually an outcome that’s positive and successful. “No. 3, she’s always been resilient – even if she’s run into brick walls or brought opposing parties together and they haven’t resolved their differences. She doesn’t walk away. She doesn’t melt in a puddle of failure. She’s tries to find a way to solve the stalemate.”
Added Churm: “She can be tough. She’s focused and immensely impactful, but all the while, she’s executed her various roles based on an unwavering set of principles and values that in large part come from her strong Catholic faith.”
Another member of the 12-person OCF board, Jim Normandin, whose long involvement in philanthropy including leading the Memorial Medical Center Foundation and legacy planning at Memorial Care Health System, calls Dunn a “very talented and capable leader” who has earned the respect of many in Orange County and beyond.
“She’s a gem,” Normandin said. “Sometimes, she’ll bring a different perspective and cause you to go, ‘Oh, wait a second. Maybe we better rethink some of this.’”
One of Dunn’s mentors was Monica Florian, former group senior vice president, corporate affairs, for The Irvine Company.
“Through her involvements in the building industry, the business community and many community organizations, Lucy has made lasting contributions to the economic growth and quality of life in Orange County,” said Florian, who became the first female and youngest individual to serve as a corporate officer when she was named senior vice president at The Irvine Company, and who is the first female past president of the Building Industry Association Orange County.
“She is certainly knowledgeable and skilled in her profession yet most importantly she is thoughtful, creative and gifted at bringing diverse interests together to accomplish important things.”
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
A constant throughout Dunn’s life has been the Catholic Church.
She began singing while attending Holy Family Cathedral in Orange with her husband, the late Gerard Fane (he died in 2020; they had not been married for years but remained friends).
“I had just given birth to my second son and was sitting in church listening to the choir thinking, I need to get out of the house one night a week. What can I do that wouldn’t annoy my husband?’ I had never sung in my life.”
Choir director and organist Dr. Robert Cummins brought Dunn on board.
“I love being a cantor because each person in the congregation is experiencing something different,” Dunn said. “Someone might be celebrating, someone might be struggling or grieving or have a family issue, and as a cantor your job is to enhance the liturgy and yet not be distracting. It’s an art form.”
A few years later, Dunn began attending St. Elizabeth Ann Seton after her good friend, then-choir director Dr. Ricardo Soto, recruited her.
Mark Salters, music director at St. Elizabeth, said Dunn is so reliable she rarely has missed rehearsal while living in Sacramento. She would fly down every week.
“I asked her, ‘How do you do that?’” Salters recalled. “She would tell me, ‘The plane is like a bus ride.’”
Dunn, also a member of the Meritage Vocal Arts Ensemble, an Anaheim-based choir Salters performs with, as well as the Meistersingers, a professional chamber ensemble based in Orange under the direction of Brian Dehn, is a talented singer who mentors the less-experienced cantors, Salters said.
“She’s the humblest person you could ever meet,” he said. “And she’s the most generous person. She’ll remember every holiday and every birthday.”
Often, people who know Dunn more for her roles outside of church will greet her after Mass.
But she likes to keep things all about the church, Salters said.
“It’s her escape,” he said. Bishop Vann calls Dunn a good friend and confidant. He came to know her 10 years ago shortly after he was named bishop of the Diocese of Orange and gave the invocation for the OCBC’s Christmas gathering.
“Her commitment to her faith and the mission of the Diocese of Orange is a great blessing to me personally and to us all,” Bishop Vann said. “In addition to this, our friendship is woven together with a love for
our Catholic faith, Orange County, music and dogs.”
For the record, Dunn calls herself a “crazy pug mom” who has rescued many pups. She currently has two pugs, Mindy, 11, and Rocky, 2.
Fr. Borgman called Dunn a “perfect example of so many qualified Catholic women who are making the world a better place.”
He added: “She radiates our Lord, she radiates confidence, and she’s charming to work with. She’s a treasure trove of business information, humor, generosity, and wise counsel.”
In addition to her OCF board duties, Dunn helped Orange County Catholic Charities develop its strategic plan. She also has served on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s finance council and worked on the Christ Cathedral capital campaign both on the parish and diocesan level.
“You just try to live your life according to the words that Jesus has taught us, as well as the Commandments and every day, and you try to make the world a better place than it was yesterday,” she said.
Every morning, Dunn reads the Gospel of the day and journals about it.
“When you study the Gospel every day, and focus on what Jesus said, to me, that’s so powerful,” Dunn said. “How does this affect my life? I love doing that. I love having the intellectual side move the heart side.”