Longtime Davis resident Herbert Bauer — who came to Yolo County as its first public health officer, then went on to become widely regarded as “the conscience of the community” — died Tuesday at age 103.
Bauer was born in Austria. But as a young man of Jewish heritage, he left in haste as Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938. When Nazi troops came to the front door, Bauer slipped out a window in the back, eventually making his way to London. There he met his future wife Hanna, also from Austria. Together they started a private agency that helped people who were in danger in Europe find jobs as housekeepers or kitchen help in England; Bauer later estimated some 200 people were saved.
The Bauers found sponsors in the United States, making it possible for them to come to this country, and settled in California, where Hanna began studies at UC Berkeley. They alternated years of university studies until both of them had completed degrees. Then Herbert Bauer took jobs in the medical field in several parts of California, becoming Yolo County’s first full-time public health officer in 1955, with an office in the basement of the county building in Woodland, and a staff of five.
In those days, the health officer went to every school and evaluated the children. Bauer told friend Sheila Allen, now Davis school board president, “I would line (the students) up, put my stethoscope to their chest, have them stick out their tongue.”
Bauer also organized polio and tuberculosis vaccine clinics all over the county.
“He personally gave immunizations to more people than anyone else in the state,” recalled Captane Thomson, who was recruited by Bauer to come to Yolo County to start a mental health program in 1965. Bauer also established the county’s first family planning clinic, initiated the first family services agency, and helped organize the county’s suicide prevention service. By the time he retired as county health officer at age 61, the Yolo Health Department had grown to 100 employees.
Bauer then entered another phase of his career, opening a child psychiatry practice that he continued for 20 years. He also served on the clinical faculty at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and taught courses at UCD’s King Hall School of Law as well.
Bauer also sustained a continuing personal interest in the health of local teenagers.
“He was very helpful when I was the school nurse at Davis High School,” recalled Joyce Wisner. “He was a wonderful listener for teenage situations. He had the medical expertise and the experience.” Bauer also played a behind-the-scenes role in a Davis Enterprise column offering health advice to teens during the 1980s, Wisner recalled.
There were many accolades and recognitions along the way. Herbert and Hanna Bauer were honored as Davis Citizens of the Year in 1976. Herbert Bauer received the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society’s Golden Stethoscope Award in 2000, and received awards from the California Lung Association, the California Medical Association and the Yolo County Bar Association, among others.
In 2006, Yolo County dedicated the Herbert Bauer, M.D., Health and Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Building in Woodland. At the dedication, Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson (who came to Davis with husband Captane in 1965) described Bauer as “always on the leading edge of health care,” adding that “Dr. Bauer’s well-child conferences were known far and wide for their good-sense parenting advice.”
Bauer’s common sense and witty language also were evident in “his wonderful letters to the editor,” recalled friend Allegra Silberstein, adding, “whenever I saw a letter by Hebert Bauer, I would read it.” Bauer often wrote on issues relating to peace and social justice, as well as health. His last letter — supporting the fluoridation of drinking water — was published just a few weeks ago, on April 4.
In recent decades, Bauer took part in local activities for seniors. Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor recalled that when he served on the Davis City Council, he would occasionally spot Bauer walking to the Davis Senior Center and give him a ride.
“He was a dear friend to many, a great voice of wisdom,” Saylor said.
County Supervisor Jim Provenza said, “I chair the Yolo County Commission on Aging, and Herbert Bauer was a huge supporter — an icon in the community.”
Bauer loved to read, and when he turned 102 last year, friends organized a drive to present Bauer with a gift of 102 books for his birthday. Some 338 books — from as far away as Japan — were collected.
Bauer also was a dancer, appearing on several occasions with the Third Stage Dance Company, a “multi-generational” troupe at the Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop. And Bauer was a swimmer, enjoying a dip in his backyard pool on a daily basis for many years.
A huge crowd gathered to celebrate Bauer’s 100th birthday party at the Davis Art Center in 2010. “It was one of those ‘dark and stormy’ January nights,” recalled friend Judith Gabor. “I was amazed at the numbers.” Upwards of 300 people packed the building while others milled around outside.
Music was another passion, stemming from his youth in Vienna.
“Herb especially loved classical music and truly enjoyed the Davis High Orchestra,” recalled Sheila Allen, whose day job is in the County Health Department building named in Bauer’s honor. “The last concert I attended with him was the Wennberg Festival concert at the Mondavi Center in March. He smiled through each piece, but his favorite, as always, was the Mozart.
“Afterwards, we stopped for ice cream and drove around the Vic Fazio Wildlife Area and some back roads around Davis before heading home as the sun set over the coastal range with beautiful reds and deep blues,” Allen said.
Bauer suffered injuries in a fall a few weeks ago, and friends gathered around as his health faded.
“People came to talk to him, sing to him, read to him, play opera tapes and instruments, or simply sit and hold his hand,” said Nancy Keltner, a longtime friend. “His home became a gathering place. Herbert was our teacher in the art of loving.”
Longtime friend Anna-Marie Tucker-Schwab knew Herbert and his late wife Hanna, who died in 2002, for some 50 years.
“They did so much for so many,” she said Tuesday. “And Herbert was a brilliant, delightful person; really sincere. He lived 103 years of absolute excellence.”
Tucker-Schwab added that when she helped tidy up the Bauer home recently, “I found his old Health Department badge; in the 1950s, they gave badges to health officers. It was one of the things of which he was proudest. He was truly proud of having created the Health Department and being the first full-time health officer in Yolo County.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.