Huell Howser, California’s Biggest Ambassador, Travels On

“Now that’s amazing.” Those three words were immediately identifiable to anyone who is a loyal fan of PBS and lives in California. Huell Howser, who came to California a quarter century ago to be “a TV guy”, passed away last week, leaving behind an incredible library of stories about our state, which he brought to life and which will live on forever. What an incredible legacy for any man.

After Howser’s passing, the accolades began to flow. Huell earned every one. But interestingly enough, he wanted no tributes, not even a memorial service. This was a man who lived his life privately. His friends and co-workers knew he was a closeted gay man, but it was a part of himself he chose not to share with others. He died as he lived – in the company of close friends.

What a shame that he felt a need to be someone other than himself to all of us. Because most of us knew him only as a man with a funny accent who was forever telling us about interesting places in our state we had yet to discover. I suspect a large majority of his PBS audience and fans cared little about his personal life. They loved the man they saw on the screen. Huell was a real person. His interview segments on “California Gold” were often done in one take, because he didn’t demand perfection as much as he did honesty. It was a style that served him well.

Howser stepped back from his show last fall, as his health declined. Before he passed, he asked for nothing, except for PBS to continue to air his programs for as long as people enjoyed viewing them. I suspect we’ll see those shows for many years, as reminder of a man dedicated to sharing his adopted home state with others. Many a time I’ve sat on the couch, watching Huell on TV, only to find I need a scratch pad and pen available to make notes about the places he shared. Those shows were a treasure trove of ideas for someone in the travel business.

I got the opportunity to meet Huell in Sacramento’s KVIE studios when he visited in 2011. I had requested an interview with him for The Travel Guys radio show. Veteran broadcasters generally hate those requests. There’s always something they’d rather be doing. But Huell was courteous, smiling and laughing through the entire 12 minute tape. My only regret was not getting a “Now that’s AMAZIN,'” from him during our short time together. A good man, a kind man, a humble man. The kind of guy you miss when he’s gone.

So my friends, I propose a tip o’ the hat to Huell Howser. I wish him peace and safe travels on his next journey. He was and will always be, the definition of California Gold.