They came from all corners of Craig Childers’ life, filling the Putah Creek Lodge on Saturday to standing room only.
Family, friends, colleagues from the California Air Resources Board, the UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies, utility districts from around the state — all to pay tribute to and celebrate the life of a man who was not just an important figure in electric vehicle policy, but also a beloved husband, stepfather, uncle, brother and friend.
“It’s ironic that the one time all his various circles meet is the one time he can’t be here,” remarked longtime friend Randy Mager.
Childers died in August at the age of 57. A UCD graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and materials science, Childers joined the air resources board in 1999, where he was instrumental in developing policy and regulations for electric vehicles and EV infrastructure. He was a rare person, several speakers said, who could bring that engineering background into the policy world and succeed.
And it wasn’t just on the job — Childers devoted considerable time to outreach, educating both adults and children about EV technology. He organized displays and demonstrations for UCD Picnic Day and could frequently be seen driving around Davis in unusual electric vehicles — including one of his many three-wheel City El vehicles — stopping to explain the technology and share his enthusiasm with any interested person he passed.
He was, Mayor Joe Krovoza said, “a man who made it his mission to change public thinking, one EV at a time.”
And he did.
“He was starting to see the fruits of his labor on the streets of California,” said Analisa Bevan, a colleague at the air resources board who hired Childers in 1999.
Without Childers, she said, “it would have taken us a lot longer to get where we are today. We’d have gotten there eventually, but it would have taken a lot longer.”
Not that the journey is over.
Andy Frank, professor emeritus at UCD and the inventor of the plug-in hybrid vehicle, called Saturday “a sad day,” saying, “We’re just getting to the point where we’re getting these vehicle out to the public … the idea of the plug-in hybrid is taking hold. There’s a lot more to be done and I wish Craig were here to help.”
To honor Childers’ contributions, the many people attending Saturday’s celebration took to their own electric vehicles to parade through campus and downtown continuing to spread the word about electric vehicles.
Before the parade, though, they shared stories about Childers — about his copious use of post-it notes, how he always ran out of business cards because everyone asked for them, his love of guitar playing, the backpack he took everywhere and a certain Camero Z-28 which he drove as a student in Davis, occasionally terrorizing passengers with his speed.
It was fitting that Childers ended up spending his career making cleaner vehicles, his brother, Doug Childers, said Saturday.
“Given the carbon footprint of that Z-28 … Craig was making up for all those years of what he did to the environment.”
He was also remembered for his way with children — not just his stepdaughters, nieces and nephews, but the children of friends who became like nieces and nephews to him.
One of them was Davis teen Gabe Mager, who said, “I’ve grown up with Craig walking through my door.”
Gabe said he always wondered two things: What car was Childers driving and what was he going to pull out of his backpack.
He was, Gabe said, like a godfather to him.
Childers’ stepdaughters, Jessica Lieding, Katelyn Lieding and Callie Lieding paid tribute to their stepfather, as did his brothers, college roommate and many colleagues.
Krovosa knew Childers both from his work at the UCD Institute for Transportation Studies and as a resident of Davis.
“When you’d run into Craig, it was good day,” Krovoza said.
Choking back tears, the mayor presented Childers’ parents, Alfred and Josephine Childers, with an official city of Davis proclamation, acknowledging all Childers had done for the city, the state and the world.
“We should all be so lucky to live a life like Craig did,” Krovoza said. “He never made apologies for what he believed in.”
To honor his memory, colleagues at the Institute for Transportation Studies are establishing a scholarship in Childers’ name to support students interested in electric vehicles and zero-emission technology. To contribute, contact Analisa Bevan at [email protected]
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy