Although many of us had decided he would live forever, Herb Bauer — truly the Conscience of Davis — passed away in his Davis home early Tuesday morning at the age of 103.
To those of us who grew up here, we knew him first as Dr. Bauer, then later as Herb, but many of his closest friends always called him Herbert.
But no matter how you addressed him, he was first and foremost a friend, even if you agreed on almost nothing at all. He was like a father, a brother, a mentor, a pastor and, most especially, a best friend, all rolled into one.
And I realize as I write this that the deep love and affection I have for Herb Bauer, and the love and affection I felt from him in return, probably were felt in equal or greater proportions by at least 10,000 other souls in our town and beyond over the years. Put simply, he was special to everyone.
I was one of the lucky ones who met Dr. Bauer when I was 5 years old and continued to know him from that day on. We lived in the same Oeste Manor neighborhood for years, and while he didn’t coach Little League or run for City Council, he was always a presence in our town.
One time in young adulthood, I was in British Columbia with a college buddy, waiting to catch a ferry in the small town of Tsawwassen. To kill time, I walked to the front of the long line of cars waiting to board and encountered Herb and his wife Hanna leaning against their car into the bright sunshine.
Without missing a beat, Herb smiled and said: “Well, Bob, you didn’t have to come all the way to Canada to see me. You could have just walked down the street if you had something to say.”
In terms of having something to say, Herb was never at a loss for words. His letters to the editor were legendary, always to the point and just sharp enough to make you say “ouch” without actually breaking the skin.
Over the years, I’ve had many people disagree with something I’ve written, and figured it was just part of the territory. But when it was Herb who disagreed, I sat up and paid attention and began to re-evaluate my position. His last letter to the editor, on water fluoridation, was published in this very newspaper just last month.
There was wit and wisdom in every one of Herb’s letters, but behind them all was a fervent desire to make this a better world for all of us. If all his letters were gathered into a single book — “Herb’s Herbs” — it would be a certain bestseller.
Last year, my daughter Maev, then 10, called Herb and asked if she could interview him for an article she was writing for National Scholastic Magazine. Herb readily agreed and so they met one afternoon, just the two of them, in his back yard.
Imagine, a man of 102 and a girl of just 10, chatting as if they had been best friends forever.
When she came home, Maev opened her essay with these words: “When he was only four years old, Herb Bauer served at a prison camp during the First World War by opening and closing the doors for prisoners. His pay? A chocolate chip cookie. But this is only a small snapshot of Herb’s life.”
A small snapshot indeed. Since his death, many more snapshots have been pouring in from those who took such joy in Herbert’s well-lived life.
State Sen. Lois Wolk wrote: “The Germans and Jews refer to someone as a real mensch, which means a truly decent human being. That was Herb.”
Robert Jennings, who delivered Meals on Wheels to Herb and was frequently invited into his home to talk, wrote: “If everyone were like Herb Bauer, this world would be a much better place, a kinder, gentler place. Integrity, thy name is Herb Bauer.”
Superior Court Judge Dave Rosenberg noted that Herb was “everyone’s friend and no one’s enemy. He had the gift of taking a lot of thoughts and boiling them down to the essential phrase that said it all. The mold that made Herb is broken. Rest in peace.”
There are dozens and dozens more, but suffice it to say, the world will never be the same, not because Herb Bauer died, but from the way he lived and shared his marvelously joyful life with all of us.
Herb gave up driving as he neared 100, but he didn’t give up anything else. I’ll always remember when he pulled me aside at his 100th birthday celebration at the Davis Art Center and said in the mock serious tone he had perfected over the years: “I went downtown for breakfast this morning and ordered a two-minute egg and they asked me to pay in advance.”
For his 102nd birthday, his friends suggested that 102 people send Herbert a book, since he loved to read about any and all subjects. Remarkably, he received more than 300 books, but the truly amazing part is that everyone who sent a book received a thank-you note — and sometimes a brief book report — in return.
Every year in this space there is a “Contest to Replace the Above-Pictured Columnist” and every year Herb’s entry, always typed on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, arrived on the first day.
Three years ago he wrote: “We need a purpose so that when we are waking up we know what we are waking up for. We need somebody to love who can return it, and we need more humor in this grim world.”
His last entry, which ran here in September of 2012, concerned Herb’s quandary over finding a “significant” topic for consideration.
“After thinking for a whole minute,” Herb wrote, “I thought my impending death might be significant enough, at least in my own life, to be classified as significant.”
He went on to say, as many of us held our breath, wondering what would come next: “No specific date has been nor will be set, but by human standards, it is obviously close. Am I scared? Not the least bit. To die is a perfectly normal thing to do. Whatever time remains, don’t rush it. Enjoy what is left with the help of friends, music, poetry.”
And then he closed his thoughts with these words: “If I could do just one more thing, what would I do? My immodest answer is not just one, but three more things, namely my own three commandments: keep living, keep loving, keep laughing. At the very end, what I would like to say to you is what Byron said to all of us: ‘Fare thee well; and if for ever, Still for ever, fare thee well!’ ”
Fare thee well, Herb Bauer, fare thee well.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org