Those of you who don't live in California may not have heard of Huell Howser, who died on Sunday. A Marine Corps veteran from Tennessee, for nearly three decades he was the host of several public television series spotlighting all that was beautiful, unusual or interesting in and around Los Angeles as well as the state as a whole. His aw-shucks demeanor and enthusiasm could seem exaggerated or silly, but in watching his shows it became obvious that he was genuinely interested in the places he visited, the people he met and the stories they had to tell.
Update: More remembrances and tributes in this diary.
Huell was somewhat of a walking contradiction: a big, blond good-old-boy with a strong accent yet someone who loved both the rural and urban landscapes of California and the diversity of people who live here. He'd cover national parks of great natural beauty, stores with unique offerings, tiny storefront museums, dusty and dingy tunnels beneath well-known landmarks. And through it all he treated everyone he met like old friends, both in his shows and when the camera was off.
In some ways, he makes me think of Fred Rogers - another TV host whose sweet, kind and gentle personality could seem unbelievable or saccharine, but who truly seemed to believe in the best in people and live that out both in public and in private. The L.A. Times article quotes Huell as being well aware that some people considered him a put-on, and that he was very aware and concerned about what needs fixing in the world, yet he somehow managed to keep seeking out what was good and interesting about people, which I think does its own part in healing ills. It's encouraging to know that there are still people like that who put real love into everything they do - and when we lose someone like that, we're all poorer for it.