Orville "Orv" Amburgey,

Orville "Orv" Amburgey, (Courtesy City of Costa Mesa / November 16, 2012)

Orville "Orv" Amburgey, a respected community fixture who served as one of Costa Mesa's first police officers and as a city councilman, has died. He was 78.

Amburgey died of natural causes at his Costa Mesa home Sunday, relatives said.

Amburgey, who tangled with the feds over his stances on illegal immigration and made headlines with what the Daily Pilot called in 2000 a "feisty" political persona, moved to Costa Mesa from Minnesota in 1948 — five years before the city was incorporated.

He raised a family with his wife of nearly 60 years, Beatrice, a Santa Ana native. Her parents ran Victor's Fat Boy barbecue restaurant at 17th Street and Newport Boulevard, which is where she and Amburgey first met.

"My father came out and introduced me to him," she recalled Friday. "He said [to Amburgey], 'Would you mind taking my daughter home? She needs to go to sleep to go to school.' He took me home and that's it. I was 16, and he was 18."

Amburgey went on to become the 12th officer to wear a Costa Mesa Police Department badge, rising rapidly through the ranks, said former police chief Roger Neth, Costa Mesa's first police officer. He then became the city's director of communications.

Amburgey didn't stay long at what was at the time a close-knit, growing department before working to establish the city's communications department in 1967, Neth said, but he was, "a very good policeman. Very committed to the city, and not just his own personal achievements and his career. He wanted to provide the best service he possibly could."

In 1972, Amburgey was elected to the school board, and in 1986, to the City Council.

Amburgey also ran an electrical contracting business and was active in the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Costa Mesa High School Football Boosters.

"Orv Amburgey's contributions to our community will leave a lasting legacy in Costa Mesa," city CEO Tom Hatch said in a statement. "He will be greatly missed."

Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Ed Fawcett, who worked with Amburgey for years, said Amburgey saw his share of council controversies, even back in the '80s.

"You look nowadays, the [Costa Mesa] City Council's in the news nationwide," he said. "Orv set the pace."

Added Mary Hornbuckle, who served on the council with Amburgey: "It was a tough time."

"There were sometimes quite-heated debates" — in particular about the role of local government in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Ultimately though, despite the fact that she and Amburgey fell on opposite sides of the issue, "I do think Orv was trying to do the best for the city," Hornbuckle said.

Fawcett agreed. Everything Amburgey did, he said, stemmed from an investment in the community — a value he instilled in his children and grandchildren.

"I remain, even with any past differences of opinions, a fan of Orv's and the whole Amburgey family," Fawcett said. "[His] kids are taking over for what Orv established.... That'll be one of Orv's legacies; he's instilled in his kids to continue to give back to the community."

Son Ron Amburgey said even within the large Amburgey clan, Orv was a go-to guy.

"He had a huge family — several brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles," the younger Amburgey said. "He was the one person in the family everybody looked up to. If there was any sort of problem, he would respond."

Ron Amburgey said his dad knew how to have a good time with the Costa Mesa football family too.

"Some of the coaches still talk about some of the parties we used to have," he said. "My mom would make the chili and we'd party pretty good.... As a father, growing up, he set a good example. The town was small and we knew a lot of people and it was good."

Orville Amburgey, born July 20, 1934, is survived by his wife, two children and six grandchildren. The public is invited to attend funeral services at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, 2850 Fairview Road in Costa Mesa, at 2 p.m. Saturday. A viewing will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Mortuary, 1625 Gisler Ave.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan