Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Harold Stuiber, 1922-2013
When World War II ended and my dad left the Navy, he decided to take one more stab at making it as an actor in Southern California. He went back to the Pasadena Playhouse, which groomed such famous stars as Raymond Burr, and was doing bit parts in the plays when he met a kid from Wisconsin who also wanted to be an actor.
Harold Stuiber (pronounced STEE-burr) was 15 years younger than my dad at the time and so green he didn’t know how to drive a car. My father taught him and they became close friends for life. Harold ended up doing my dad a favor for which I will be forever grateful.
At the time there were three women — two sisters from Idaho and an older friend — who were working at Huntington Memorial Hospital and sharing an apartment. Harold got serious about one of the sisters and thought that perhaps her older friend would be a good fit for his older friend. He arranged an introduction, which was how my father met my mother.
My parents got married in May of 1949, not long after Harold and Virginia, and Harold was Best Man at the wedding. The other sister, Patty, married a man named Walt Brecha (BRECK-uh) around the same time. My dad and Harold gave up their acting careers and both did pretty well in business. Harold became a textile salesman and kept some of his clients well into his eighties.
I grew up with the Stuibers and Brechas and their kids a constant presence. Harold was my godfather, and I recall that he felt it incumbent upon him to teach me the value of a firm handshake. He was the first person I knew who owned and drove a Volkswagen. Like most salesmen, he was a great talker — funny, tolerant and well read, with opinions and observations that were always worth listening to. He was a liberal and my father was a conservative, but politics never came between them.
In 1980, when my father was diagnosed with cancer, Harold began coming over every Sunday night without fail. He did that for a year and a half, until my father finally succumbed to the disease. Harold told me more than once that my dad was the dearest friend he’d had in his life.
The Unanswered Phone
After my mother moved away from Southern California, I rarely saw Harold, but we talked on the phone from time to time, and I think we both enjoyed the conversations. On Sunday I called him for the first time in a few months to wish him a merry Christmas. Nobody answered the phone, but even at 91, Harold was busy so I didn’t worry.
A few hours later his daughter, Lisa, called to say Harold had died that morning of complications from a pacemaker replacement. Despite his age and the fact he’d had a great life, the news hit me hard. It was a double whammy. I felt the loss not only of the man himself, but also of the end of the most powerful living connection to my parents, both of whom have been gone for years.
Lisa and I talked for a while, and toward the end of the conversation she said something that reminded me of the Mad Men days of the fifties and sixties, in which we had both grown up.
“I’d like to think Dad’s in heaven now,” she said, “having a martini with your dad and Walt and catching up on old times.” I hope so, too.