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Michael J. Virga ’53, J.D. ’58 was born January 11, 1932 in the front bedroom of their Land Park home. His three older sisters were told to look for the doctor because he was bringing the baby with him in his black medical bag.
The Great Depression may have been in full swing but the Virga family was rich in love and laughter. Mike’s parents, Michael P. Virga, full blooded Sicilian, and mother Helen, full blooded Irish, were to have 7 children: Margret (Lyon), Mary (Shelby), Patricia (Tammen), Katie (Trekur); Mike’s brothers John and Richard (died at 6 months) Virga. Their home was the heart of the neighborhood. Children played, friends, family and neighbors gathered for visits, good food, and the weekly Friday night poker game. Many an evening, the carpet was rolled up for dancing and it was here that Mike’s older sisters taught him to dance; his love of which would last his lifetime.
He was taught the lessons of hard work by his immigrant father, who had prospered in his adopted country as a painting contractor. Many a day was spent painting by his side. Mike’s mother, brilliant and cultured, was the loving heart of the family. Home was where where Mike learned about dignity, kindness and character. It was with these ethics, that Mike started CK McClatchy High School. Soon he would become Student Body President, an all city baseball and basketball player, and member of the championship American Legion team. A baseball scholarship to Santa Clara followed.
But before he would leave for college a striking blonde sophomore caught his eye. In an instant, Betsey Gillis became the love of his life, and would become his future bride. A stunning couple, Mike, tall dark and handsome, and Betsey, a timeless beauty, married after he graduated from college. After two years in the US Army, where he made Captain, Mike finished law school at Santa Clara and headed home to Sacramento.
With hard work and diligence, his legal career flourished rapidly; starting as a deputy district attorney, then city prosecutor, then on to private practice, where he won the largest recorded verdict in Sacramento history at the time. At 38, Mike was appointed to the judicial bench by then Governor Ronald Reagan. He was the quintessential judge. Known for his fairness, open mind, empathy, keen intellect and knowledge of the law, he presided over many high profile cases, including the notorious Dorthea Puente murder trial. A skillful mediator, he also had an excellent record of settling lawsuits before they went to trial.
During this time Mike’s family life was equally busy and flourishing. He and Betsey had four children, Michael, Julie, Greg and David. Once again the Virga home was rich with love and laughter. He and Betsey made sure they were involved with their children’s lives through the years. Their home was the hub of the neighborhood with family and friends gathering often. When the kids were younger there was little league, Sunday drives to the Orange Freeze, Camp Sacramento and the boardwalk at Santa Cruz. When they were older, the teenagers and parents had parties together. There was always dancing and Sinatra was often playing. Mike and Betsey bought a house with a swimming pool and a pool table and encouraged the kids to have parties there so they wouldn’t be out driving.
Mike, charismatic and the life of the party, always had something going on with family and friends. He made sure he always learned the latest dance the kids were doing. Their large circle of friends were always there for good times throughout the years. A truly unpretentious, humble man, Mike attributed much of his success to the lessons of life learned while playing and coaching sports. "I’ve been associated with everybody you can imagine. It ‘s something you learn in sports- it doesn’t matter your color, your wealth, your background. It’s only what kind of person you are," said the Judge.
Baseball, not surprisingly, has always been an integral part of his family’s life. Mike said: "One reason I like boys to play ball is that it teaches them something about life- not to get discouraged on a bad day and not to get conceited on a good day." He coached his sons first at Pacific Little league, then at Land Park Pony and Colt Leagues. He was responsible for starting the Kennedy Legion Baseball program, no small feat, and managed all three sons’ teams. Many happy days were spent on baseball diamonds throughout the years. Many lifelong friends were made. Although Julie, his only daughter, didn’t mind baseball, she loved horses more, so he made sure she had one.
Remarkably, even though Mike was busy with work and family, he always made time for various charitable organizations. He helped organize the Police Athletic league and helped set up their boxing league for underprivileged youth, raising monies with local boxers and celebrities. He was on the committee that started the PIG bowl and was its first announcer. He was actively involved with Footprinters, Saints and Sinners, and the 20 /30 club. He was honored to be both inducted into the La Salle Club hall of fame and named Irishman of the year. Behind the scenes he was always helping someone. He spent countless hours doing gratis legal work.
Above all, Mike was committed to his family and relished their success and happiness. He shared a special bond with his brother, John Virga, a prominent Sacramento attorney. Throughout the years they were each other’s most ardent supporters. No one was prouder when Mike’s son Michael G. Virga ’78, J.D. 81, already a successful attorney, was elected to the judicial bench and recently named Judge of the Year. When Julie and Greg opened Virga’s Restaurant in 1990, he was their best customer. As Sinatra played, he held court at table 40, entertaining friends and family there daily. When, after 15 years, Julie decided to switch careers and close Virga’s, a going away party was given for Mike at the restaurant. Always supportive, he encouraged and promoted her when she opened Virga Realty. Lucky for him, sons Greg and David carried on the restaurant tradition. Loyal to a fault, he would only dine at their restaurants: Jacks Urban Eats, Paesanos, Pronto and Uncle Vito’s. He was an adoring "Papa" to his grandchildren and great grandchildren and was very involved with their lives and activities, whether it was sports or cheerleading.
After retirement, Mike and Betsey spent much of their time at their vacation home in Santa Cruz. Dancing, entertaining, golfing, and socializing with friends old and new. Mike enjoyed life’s simple pleasures. A hot dog with lots of mustard, Sinatra on the stereo, dancing cheek to cheek with his true love. Mike and Betsey’s deep and abiding love for each other has been a beacon to their family. A love affair known to few, their commitment to each other never faltered. It would sustain them through Mike’s fierce battle with Parkinson’s disease. His beloved Betsey, would be by his side when he drew his last breath. He is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Betsey, children Michael Virga ’78, J.D. 81 (Debbie), Julie Virga (Todd), Gregory Virga (Laura) and David Virga (Shawna), grandchildren Nicole Virga Bautista (Jayme), Natalie Panagotacos ’08 (Gus), Michael Virga, Jake Virga and Nico Virga, and great grandchildren, Avery Bautista, Michael Panagotacos and Leo Panagotacos, loving caregivers and second sons Osea (Oscar) Baraki, and Joe Bulivou.