by Jeanne Johnston
When given the opportunity to sit down in the relaxed comfort of Carmen and Gail Policy’s sprawling Napa Valley residence, which on this particular morning is enhanced with the muffled exuberance of his 3 1/2 year old grandson in the background, it is difficult to comprehend that he is the hard-charging NFL executive and tough-guy defending counsel we have all been privy to in the print media. After a five-hour visit and a much closer look into the life of Carmen Policy, his openness and humility prevails and clarity is indisputable.
It seems rudimentary to understand why Carmen Policy is revered as a “class of a guy” by those residing in Mahoning Valley, a suburb of Youngstown. The Youngstown neighborhood was once anchored by Italian immigrants and their descendants in the post war years. However, aside from his humble beginnings where his parents operated a drugstore and soda fountain, Carmen is identified as a bona fide celebrity not only referencing his NFL affiliations, but in his ongoing day-to-day life as well. He continues to champion the efforts in the best interests of not only the 49ers but for all sports enthusiasts of the San Francisco Bay Area. His respect and allegiance to the DeBartolo family, in addition to his rolodex of other high profile clients, is refreshingly unusual.
He and Gail, his wife of 20 years, share a transparent demeanor and a casual elegance that has allowed their transition into their Napa Valley lifestyle appear to be without challenge. They credit the hospitality of their fellow vintners and have been overwhelmed by their generosity and honesty.
Policy’s curriculum vitae could be referenced by most as “over qualified for life.” And for that reason alone, this article attempts to dissect his life into four chapters of experiences and accomplishments. What first seemed like an arduous task evolved into an afternoon of grand memories and wonderful storytelling. For those who may not enjoy the opportunity of knowing him personally, this will offer a candid glimpse into not only the public Policy, but the private Policy as well.
Getting down to business, we first delved into his formative years, where his development and core values have been his foundation for his freeway to life. Losing his parents at the age of nine and being raised by his maternal grandmother, Carmen learned the consequences of loss and respect for both honor and integrity. He was rewarded for his commitment to hard work and his fervent dedication to family and lifelong friendships. Saddled with grand responsibility at such a young age, Policy’s reputation was referred to as ambitious, stylish, charming, and popular with his contemporaries. I referenced a story I had read regarding the fact that as a young man, his circle of friends and peers were primarily children of affluent families living outside the Youngstown area. And at the age of 23, when he was about to take the Ohio State Bar, he and three others from his study group piled up in a hotel room, cramming for their exam. On a much-deserved break, they all determined an adult beverage from room service was in order. With respect to Policy’s monetary guidelines, each friend placed an order for a beer of some flavor with one requesting Seagram’s and soda. In true Policy style, he was the last to place his order and blindsided the group with his request for a double Courvoisier in a snifter. Policy’s festive nature enjoys that element of surprise, which is just one of the many threads sewn into the fabric of his persona.
Policy enjoyed a fruitful legal career working as a young trial lawyer in his own firm, defending what some would consider Italian nobilities and others would refer to as wise guys and dilatants. His early association with Eddie DeBartolo, Sr., whom he refers to as “Old World Nobility,” placed him in the queue for making history. He established himself as an accomplished criminal defense lawyer, arguing a case in the U.S. Supreme Court at 30 years of age. He prides himself as an attorney that “did a good job for his clients,” which prepared him for the thrill and excitement of working with the NFL as Lead Counsel to Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. and the San Francisco 40ers. His very first responsibility was the 1978 negotiations of Bill Walsh’s Contract on behalf of the DeBartolo Family. Policy humbly refers to this chapter of his life and career as the most gratifying and exciting. “The NFL was like being in show business without being good looking,” he says. He felt his NFL experiences enhanced his life in many aspects.
As Policy reflected on each quarter of his life, he revealed that his dreams and goals could never have been accomplished without the experiences and lessons he learned from each preceding chapter. One’s ability to “build a team” is essential in accomplishing and securing life goals. Policy was a scholar of that practice and a natural at amalgamating his core family values, his steadfast professional intuition with a dusting of his Hollywood charm and style.
He and his family are currently reaping the benefits of his life’s harvest along with those of their relatively young Napa Valley vineyard, Casa Piena, which he purchased and developed with “his team” in 2003. He has settled into the fourth quadrant, but certainly not the last chapter of his life, comfortably sipping a glass of his Casa Piena Cabernet. Casa Piena means full house in Italian (Policy has three sons and two daughters) and was one of only thirteen wines served at the eG8 Conference in France in May of this year. It was the first time that American wines have ever been served at the Louvre.
One might say Carmen Policy is very kindred to his Casa Piena Cabernet, complex, but subtle; fabulous when it opens up and definitely better with age.