Chris Smith: Late president kindles memories near and far for Sonomans

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In long-ago 1981, Greg Champion, then a young and charged-up cable-TV reporter in Guam, was assigned to cover a brief visit to the island by Vice President George Bush.

Champion is now a former KFTY-50 reporter living happily in retirement in Sebastopol. But that work day in ‘81 he grabbed his video recorder and ran to meet Bush, who was stopping at the U.S. territory after attending the third inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

Not far into Bush’s press briefing, the battery in Champion’s recorder died. Never good.

After the briefing, Champion found a fresh battery, then gently ambushed the vice president.

“Mr. Bush,” he recalls imploring, “my battery died during the last interview. Could we do another?”

Champion said the future president laughed and said, “My battery died halfway outta Manila. Sure!”

So, yes, it brought tears to retired newsman Champion to see H.W. laid to rest.


MORE THAN A DECADE later, pilot and restorer of vintage aircraft Lynn Hunt and several other like-minded individuals were on the tarmac at the Sonoma County Airport when former President George H.W. Bush and an entourage arrived in a private jet, then stepped toward two waiting limousines.

Hunt and his pals watched from near some historic warbirds. Bush “waved to us and we waved back,” Hunt said.

The doors of limos all closed, but the cars didn’t move. Then Bush stepped from one of them and walked right to Hunt and the others.

Recalls Hunt, “He said, ‘Hi, you guys. I used to be a pilot years ago.’”

They all knew that, of course. The local aviation buffs spoke casually with the ex-president and one local asked if he’d flown a plane anytime recently.

Bush replied, “I decided to leave that to you younger guys.”

Lynn Hunt recalls it as a fine, fun, aviation-centric conversation with a world leader who didn’t have to leave his limousine and walk over to chat, but he did.


BORN FOR THE MIC: Sonoma County radio icons Bill Bowker, Pat Kerrigan and Steve Jaxon have more in common than meets the ear.

Bowker the KRSH and former KVRE broadcaster, heroic KSRO morning anchor Kerrigan and KSRO drive-home talk host Jaxon, who’ve entertained and informed us by radiowave for a combined 120 years or so, all were born on the same day. No, not of the same year.

They celebrated the fact and let me tag along with a lunch at the Parish Cafe in Santa Rosa. What voices!

Think of them on their special, shared day Saturday.


KEVIN McCALLUM has landed.

Kevin, the PD’s former ace Santa Rosa City Hall reporter, whose family sold its home last September and headed east in a used Mini Winnie motorhome, will start up a new job and set up housekeeping in New England.

Kevin’s been hired as the statehouse reporter for Seven Days, the alternative weekly newspaper published by Vermont Business Magazine.

The native of Connecticut will be digging out stories in Montpelier, which today is forecast to reach a high of about 26 degrees.

Very cool, Kevin.

You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 or

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