A great man died last week. But he was also a very good man.
His name was Al Hart, and for more than 20 years he was the morning drive anchor at KCBS in San Francisco. He won every broadcasting award there was, plus the love and admiration of everyone in the news business.
"He was the guy we all wanted to be," said Tom Newton, the assignment editor at KRON.
"The finest individual I ever met in radio. Invariably kind and gentle, and funny and talented to boot," said Andy Ellis, Al's engineer during the 1980s.
"Here was this broadcasting legend treating me not as some lowly little girl tech who was supposed to make him look good, but as an equal," said Kitty Rea, one of KCBS's first female engineers back in the 1970s.
"He demonstrated through his life that it is possible to succeed without destroying those around you," said Lois Melkonian, Al's co-anchor at KCBS for ten years.
It would take dozens of columns to quote even a fraction of the nice things that are being said about him today, and thousands more to list all his good deeds. Let's just put it this way: Lots of people, knowing that Al and I were longtime friends, have asked me if he could possibly have been as nice as he came across on the radio. And I have to answer honestly: No. In real life, he was even nicer.
When I first met him, he was married to a wonderful woman named Sally. But in the mid-1990s Sally was stricken by ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease – an insidious killer that left her mind intact but slowly destroyed her muscles, first robbing her of her ability to talk and then her ability to write, cutting her off from the world. It was a living hell, and she hated it.
Al was a saint through all this. He was there for her 24/7, waiting on her hand and foot, talking to her, encouraging her, sharing the ordeal with her. But what else would you expect from Al?
Sally finally died in 2002, and it was a blessing (her word, not mine). Al was devastated.
But a few years later he met another wonderful woman named Pat, and they married in 2010. Unfortunately, a few months after that Al was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration, a rare, progressive brain disease that robbed him first of that amazing, mellifluous voice that the listeners loved so much and then, step by step, of his mind. It was the mirror image of the disease that took Sally's life.
Now, here's where the karma kicks in. All the kindness, all the energy, all the effort that he put into taking care of Sally, that's what Pat did for him. She knocked herself out, and when she wasn't enough all by herself, she hired round-the-clock nursing care in their home so he wouldn't have to go into a nursing home.
I once marveled to her face at her dedication, and she replied, "I just love him, that's all."
So on behalf of all of us who loved him, too, I say thank you, Pat. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Now his pain is over. Ours has only begun.