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June 2, 2003

Agustin De Mello succumbs to cancer
By ROBYN MOORMEISTER
Sentinel staff writer

Agustin De Mello, a Santa Cruz resident known for his sometimes peculiar behavior, his alleged genius son and numerous brushes with the law died from bladder cancer Friday night in a Santa Clara nursing home. He was 73.

De Mello was a technical writer, talented flamenco guitarist and weightlifting enthusiast, who lived in Santa Cruz for most of his last 19 years where he earned a reputation for having a tenacious pursuit of perfection.

"He was definitely very eccentric, very far out there," said his son Adragon De Mello, 26.

The senior De Mello first made headlines in 1988 when Adragon, then 11 years old, graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. At the time, he was the youngest person to ever graduate college.

But the achievement drew criticism. After the father-son pair made appearances on such shows as 60 Minutes, 48 Hours and the Arsenio Hall Show, De Mello was accused by some, including Adragon’s mother Cathy Gunn and his son’s former instructors, of pushing his son too hard.

"He put a lot of pressure on me," said the younger De Mello, who now lives in Sunnyvale with his mother and works at Home Depot in Palo Alto.

The father-son relationship began to unravel in September 1988 when Adragon’s mother accused De Mello of making a suicide pact with his son, landing him temporarily in the psychiatric ward at Dominican Hospital.

In high-profile incidents to follow, De Mello led police on a high speed chase on Highway 1 in July 1990, and in March 2001, he held off police in a four-hour standoff with a loaded gun at his West Cliff Drive home.

His son says his eccentric behavior in his last years worsened because of the cancer, but that "he was always very morbid."

"He was depressed for a large part of his life," the junior De Mello said. "He was always the pessimist. It was always the worst case scenario."

After college, the junior De Mello went back to junior high to attend school with kids his own age. He has not fulfilled his father’s very public wish that he excel in astrophysics.

De Mello was featured in Esquire magazine in November 2002 after he released a CD compilation of his lifelong works on the flamenco guitar.

"He played flamenco guitar for 50 years," the junior De Mello said. "He was great. He got lucky and played a few gigs in Santa Cruz and the Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing."

De Mello grew up in Vermont and moved to California in 1969. He received his bachelors degree in English at UCLA.

He is survived by Adragon and his 41-year-old adopted son from a previous marriage, Brad Farha of West Virginia.

De Mello said his father had been battling bladder cancer for the past three years, but still managed to lift weights and attend weightlifting competitions.

For the last five months of his life, he was in and out of the Valley House Care Center in Santa Clara.

A burial and private memorial service for De Mello will be in Moss Landing.

"He liked it there because it’s secluded," De Mello said. "There’s a lot of ocean breeze. He always loved the ocean."

Contact Robyn Moormeister at rmoormeister@santa-cruz.com.

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