All throughout greater Healdsburg are people who’ve been corrected, harangued, delighted, busted up, taken aback, enlightened and helped along by Barclay Nalley, a perspicacious former grade-school teacher, scion of Sonoma County pioneers and citizen of the world.
Nalley, who grew up mostly on the Russian River ranch his great-grandfather purchased in 1860, was a well-read and richly traveled man who held potent opinions about politics, honorable behavior and all manner of things, and who felt no compunction to keep them to himself.
“Barclay was one of a kind,” declared Healdsburg City Manager David Mickaelian, one of many public servants, elected officials, journalists and others whom Nalley would contact regularly to admonish, praise or vent to.
Mickaelian smiles as he recalls Nalley’s distinctive, gravelly voice, his passion and his stories.
Nalley, a Navy veteran and great believer in dessert, died April 2 at the age of 90.
The lifelong bachelor had no kin since the death of his older sister, Andree, but he was like family to the Seppi clan that has long owned and operated Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery.
For a time after he retired from teaching on the San Francisco Peninsula, Nalley worked at the bakery cafe just north of the Healdsburg Plaza.
“I’ve got pictures of him wearing his beret behind the counter,” said Will Seppi, who once worked for his parents, Karl and Nancy, and now runs the business.
Several million times, Seppi witnessed Nalley pointedly challenge someone, anyone, who used improper grammar or stated something that Nalley felt certain was mistaken or untrue. It especially vexed the teacher of more than 30 years to hear people misuse words and foul their speech with “um,” “actually” and “like.”
An example: “I, like, told her I actually wanted to take her to the movies and, um, when she, like, said OK it, like, literally blew my mind.”
Seppi visited Nalley at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital a few days before his lifelong friend succumbed to congestive heart failure, and he watched him take one of his nurses to task for uttering an offending “like.”
Nalley was a keen observer of human behavior, a man who traveled the world and felt connected to issues and crises everywhere. He had a laser wit and he could be extremely kind and generous.
About two decades ago he met a Costeaux employee, Liduvina Medrano, who’d come from Mexico and was working nonstop to support her two young daughters, Wendy and Adriana.
Nalley offered to assist the family by becoming a tutor to the girls.
“He always wanted to make sure we were learning,” said Adriana Hernandez, now 22. Nalley encouraged both girls to aspire to higher education, and it thrilled him when Hernandez entered the nursing program at Santa Rosa Junior College.
He insisted on buying her books. When the girls began to drive, he purchased them roadside assistance to help ensure they’d be safe.
Said Wendy Ponzo, now 25 and married, “He was there through my whole life, no matter what. He didn’t have to do that.”
“He bought my wedding cake,” added Ponzo, a real estate agent who’ll keep a promise to Nalley by pursuing a degree in business administration at Sonoma State University.