Davis said goodbye to Herbert Bauer on Friday at a memorial service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, which he attended for much of his long life. Bauer died on May 7 at age 103, and had lived in Davis since the 1950s, playing an active role in the community in several capacities over the decades.
A variety of people from various walks of life honored Bauer through recollections and tributes, recalling his many accomplishments. Appropriately, Bauer also was honored with dance — he was a member of one of choreographer Pamela Trokanski’s ensembles for several years when he was in his 80s — and with music, which Bauer loved.
Speakers included Helen Thomson, who recalled meeting Bauer in 1963 when she and husband Cap made their first trip to California. They had heard that Bauer — Yolo County’s first full-time public health officer — ran “the most progressive public health department in the state.” Bauer soon hired Cap Thomson, and Helen recalled assisting with a well-baby clinic in Broderick, now part of West Sacramento.
“Knotty policy issues were Herb’s specialty,” she said. “He also advised Gov. Pat Brown (father of today’s Gov. Jerry Brown) on health care matters.”
She also recalled him as a friend and mentor who encouraged her during her early days in political life, serving on the Davis Board of Education. Helen Thomson later was elected to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and the California Assembly.
Cap Thomson recalled Bauer as “a hands-on doctor” who practiced medicine for a time at a hospital in San Luis Obispo County where he was on call 24 hours a day, and as an early supporter of the new UC Davis Medical School, founded in 1966.
He also recalled Bauer’s narrow escape as a young man, when the Nazis had just taken control of Austria in the 1930s. Bauer, who came from a Jewish background, escaped through a back window when the Nazis came to the front door, and made his way through Italy and England to California.
“Austria’s loss was our country’s gain,” Thomson said.
Howard Miller, who met Bauer as a neighbor, recalled his “warmth and generosity” but acknowledged that Bauer also could be “a really stubborn guy,” a recollection that drew appreciative giggles from the audience, who did not pay attention to the whims of fashion. “He had no concept of stripes or checks — and he didn’t care!” Miller said, prompting more appreciative laughter.
Son Chris Bauer recalled his father as “someone who felt there is no issue — social or political — that could not be addressed through classical mythology and an understanding of the game of chess.” He also recalled that his father “created an unbelievable amount of peace and love and understanding in the world” — and the terms “peace, love and understanding” came up in many recollections by others as well.
Cousin Peter Lindenfeld mentioned that Bauer “did not look back” and dwell on the past, and “always lived for the present and the future.” Lindenfeld also mentioned Bauer’s well-known wit and enjoyment of daily life, recalling that after Bauer’s wife of many decades Hanna died several years ago, and Bauer was shown her gravestone — with an adjacent blank gravestone for himself — he wryly remarked, “I’m not that eager…”
Trokanski offered a solo dance in Bauer’s memory, accompanied by a recorded voiceover in which Trokanski recalled Bauer telling her “Pamela, nobody should do one job for more than 20 years.” (Bauer served as Yolo County’s public health officer for 20-some years, then retired and embarked on a career as a child psychologist, and also taught courses at the UCD School of Medicine and School of Law at intervals along the way.)
“Keep living, keep loving, keep laughing,” Trokanski recalled Bauer telling her.
Ray Coppock spoke about Bauer’s role in the history of the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. When there was a tense discussion regarding where the congregation should stand on some issue of the day, “Herb’s contribution was to say something worth listening to, something very clearly thought-out, and something that could relieve the tension … and doing it in a way that was almost casual.”
He recalled Bauer’s witty stance in a discussion about whether women serving in the American military should see battlefield duty. “Women should not be sent into combat. Or men either!” Bauer once said.
The Rev. Beth Banks said that after coming to serve the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Davis, she soon learned to appreciate Bauer’s “gentle words and daring wit. … He accepted me (despite) how suspicious he was of the church, and pastors, and anything that smacked of authority. He wrote limericks when he was feeling playful, and prose when his thoughts were more serious. … His life was one of hope, and a belief that peace is possible.”
Marilyn Roland read from several of Bauer’s many letters to the editor, which he contributed to The Davis Enterprise over the decades. In addition to being a stalwart peace advocate, Bauer was a steadfast supporter of education and the local schools.
“In a world full of flames, with war on Earth and ill will to men, only well-educated children may hope to create a better world,” he wrote in a 2008 letter to the editor.
Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning recalled being “Herb’s paper boy” in his youth, and also remembered how Bauer would invariably submit remarkable columns — “hand-delivered, written on an old Olivetti typewriter, and submitted on the very next day” whenever Dunning would issue his annual call for guest columns. Given Bauer’s passing in May, “this will presumably be the first year I won’t have an entry from Herb Bauer,” Dunning said, “but then again, Herb has his ways …”
The memorial service also included two songs with spiritual dimensions by the Putah Creek Crawdads, a long-standing local ensemble Bauer enjoyed, performing “Who Will Sing For Me?” (“When I reach my journey’s end/Who will sing one song for me?”) and “I’ll Fly Away” (“When I die/hallelujah by and by/I’ll fly away”).
The service also included a selection from a Mozart piano sonata (K. 281) performed by Elizabeth Young. Bauer, having lived in Vienna as a young man, loved classical music and opera, and held Mozart in particularly high regard.
At the end of the service, there was even a final word from Bauer himself, in a recorded message, gently reminding those in attendance that “just because I’m dead (now) does not mean I’m any wiser than when I was alive!”
And the tribute to Bauer continues: His friends are invited to gather at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, 27074 Patwin Road, to share memories of Bauer and sing along on some traditional tunes with the Putah Creek Crawdads.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.