Trice Harvey had a gift — a willingness, an eagerness even, to look outside that comfort zone and connect with people whose stories were different from his. Democrats, city folk, even journalists.
Harvey, the longtime Kern County supervisor and California assemblyman who died Jan. 31, had the gift of a good politician but also the gift of a man so comfortable in his own skin he just knew he’d fit in, make an impression, possibly make a friend. Or a campaign contributor.
You could see Trice’s easy manner in action when he worked a room. Hah, Ah’m Trass Harvey, he’d say, and he’d thrust his right hand in the direction of a new acquaintance. And they’d connect. Maybe it was Trice’s disarming way, or maybe the new acquaintance was just interested in figuring out exactly what language Trice was trying to speak.
Twenty percent Arkie it was, 20 percent Okie, 20 percent Rosedale and 100 percent West Side.
One of the best examples of Harvey’s ability to make connections with people from other political and cultural worlds was his odd, perhaps begrudging mutual admiration for and with Willie Brown, the epitome of the Brooks Brothers-wearing, manicured, limousine-riding, big-city liberal elitist.
Here is Harvey, who never looked quite right wearing a tie, making the formal motion to oust the famously invincible Assembly speaker. And yet, in time, the men came to know and appreciate where the other was coming from. Try to think of a politician, Democrat or Republican, who can say that about a political adversary today.
Harvey stands out among the most notable Kern County residents to have died this past year. Here, in chronological order of the dates of death, are a few that we remember best.
Jeff Tkac, 53. The death of the newly elected Bakersfield city councilman on Jan. 5 seemed to strike a particularly painful blow to the community so early in the new year.
The longtime planning commissioner, reserve police officer, irrigation company owner and family man had long touched people with his smile, his exuberance and his desire to serve the community. Reports that Tkac took his own life at his southwest Bakersfield home, and that police recovered a gun at the scene, left many in the community asking why.
The number of mourners at his funeral would overfill St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, fill up an outdoor viewing area and overflow yet again into the parish hall. The large crowd was a testament to the life of Tkac, who touched so many, said eulogist Jeff Andrew.
Ralph Krafve, 86. As a basketball coach, Krafve put together a resume others can only dream of.
There’s the nine South Yosemite League championships in 13 seasons at East Bakersfield High, including a 46-game winning streak.
He spent another 13 years at Bakersfield College, where his teams won 117 games his first five years, capped by the 33-2 team in 1977-78 that remains BC’s only state champion in men's basketball.
Krafve died Jan. 16 in Bakersfield.
“Any of us who win, you’ve got to have some talent,” said Mark Hutson, who played for Krafve at East and was one of the assistant coaches on his state title team.
“What made Ralph was his persistence,” Hutson said. “If you had a drill scheduled for 10 minutes, he wouldn’t quit in 10 minutes if you were doing it poorly."
Trice Harvey, 80. This longtime public servant was the kind of guy who spun stories, yarns and the occasional tall tale.
His daughter, Dinah Marquez, said her father had been in ill health for years and had had difficulty walking. He had suffered two major falls and died from complications from the second one.
Those who knew Harvey best said he lived his life well, in the service of his family, friends and community.
Don Markham, 85. He was the guy who most literally embodied the name of Merle Haggard’s legendary band, the Strangers: Always looking a little ill at ease, he kept a low profile on stage, blending into the background curtains and sticking close to one of Merle’s backup-singer wives — Bonnie or Theresa, depending on the era — for moral support.
But then he’d let loose with one of his sax solos, on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” or “It’s All in the Movies,” and everybody, Merle included, would blur into soft focus for a few jazzy seconds while all eyes turned to Markham.
Markham, a versatile musician, Bakersfield Sound pioneer and Oildale resident, and one of Haggard’s closest friends, died Feb. 24 of undisclosed causes.
Marvin Steinert, 94. The businessman known in Bakersfield for his charitable giving died April 22.
Steinert, a bookkeeper who also dealt in real estate and served on the Kern Community Foundation board, was best known for his giving personality and kindness.
Among many charities he supported were Teen Challenge, Fresno Pacific University, the Salvation Army, Stars Theater and the Women’s and Girls’ Fund.
Gene Thome, 54. This Bakersfield Sound loyalist and owner of Bear Mountain Sports who rubbed elbows with local country music royalty was described as a man who gave more than he received.
A farm boy from Arvin who was raised poor but grew up to become a local charitable icon died May 27 from complications of kidney cancer.
Thome devoted much of his life to music and especially the trappings of the Bakersfield Sound. He became best friends with Red Simpson, the late performer who wrote dozens of songs for country music icons Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
Benjamin Greene, 48. Another loss to the community that seemed to leave folks with more questions than answers came with the unexpected death of this Bakersfield attorney, who died June 20 after collapsing during a 5K run at Hart Park.
Greene spent five years in the Public Defender's office before opening his own practice in 1999. His funeral was attended by a who's who of local attorneys.
"Big" Al Gonzales, 82. He worked 50 years at Emporium Western Store in downtown Bakersfield, where he sold, fitted, steamed, creased and shaped cowboy hats for the likes of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Jack Palance, Garth Brooks and countless local customers who often became lifelong friends.
Gonzales, who had a way with customers that won their loyalty — and a way with Stetsons that cemented his local fame — died Aug. 7.
The sign outside the store following Gonzales' passing said it all: "Happy trails, Big Al. We love U."
Milt Younger, 86. He was one of the best known lawyers in Kern County. A former partner at the law firm now called Chain Cohn Stiles, then called Chain Younger, Younger spent decades fighting for the "little guy" and was instrumental in safety improvements affecting workers across the state.
A patron of the arts and a loyal supporter of the Bakersfield Symphony, Younger died Sept. 1 of natural causes. He was 86.
Don Maben, 75. The former Kern County supervisor, known for being a good guy who never sought the limelight and instead focused on doing both the big and little things needed for the people he represented, died Sept. 26 following a battle with brain cancer.
Friends and colleagues described him as quiet and calm but still a forceful and effective advocate for his constituents in east Kern, which he served as 2nd District supervisor from 2003 to 2010.
"When we had tough problems, he had great common sense that always focused on what was good for the people, district, county," said David Price III, a former Kern County Resource Management Agency director. "He never took shortcuts. He was plain-spoken and direct. His office was always neat and orderly, just like he thought things through."
Sherman Lee, 76. The Mandarin beef and paper-wrapped chicken is delicious, but some say no one makes a better mai tai than Bill Lee's Bamboo Chopsticks, a restaurant owned and operated for decades by Lee, the son of the late founder and namesake.
Lee died Oct. 5.
He was running the business, located at 1203 18th St., with his sons Brian and Brandon Lee. Now in its 80th year, Bill Lee's remains a downtown fixture.
Chris Conner, 70. The KUZZ DJ, who worked for Buck Owens Productions, the station's parent company, for 40 years, died in early October of an undisclosed illness.
Conner, whose real name was Brad Fergon, moved to Bakersfield in 1971 after serving for several years with the U.S. Army in South Korea. He initially worked at KAFY, then a rock station, before joining the Owens-owned country station in 1977.
His voice would become familiar even to non-KUZZ listeners because of his many radio commercial voice-overs. He was nominated as Billboard radio personality of the year in 1989.
Linda Bidabe, 72. She was a revolutionary. The Kern County special education teacher who railed against the status quo of relegating developmentally disabled students to wheelchairs or beanbags developed an innovative and groundbreaking line of equipment that transformed the lives of children and families with one simple goal in mind: to get kids moving.
Bidabe, whose program transcended her Bakersfield classroom and became the global nonprofit MOVE International, helped countless students gain mobility. Bidabe died Oct. 25 after a short bout with cancer.
John Rous, 78. The Bakersfield running and cycling communities lost one of their own Nov. 14 with the death of the avid cyclist and the founder of the Pie Run, an early morning Thanksgiving Day event at Hart Park that drew hundreds of hard-core and occasional runners.
Rous was riding his bicycle near Ethel's Old Corral when he was struck by the driver of a late model Scion at about 10:30 a.m. Friends and admirers said Rous left a legacy of passion and decency.
The Pie Run, held the following week in Rous' honor, was said to boast the biggest turnout in its history.
Jeff Haddad, 50. He was a big guy. A high school football player who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 300 pounds, he towered over most.
But friends and family say his stature paled in comparison to his bigger-than-life personality.
The Bakersfield father of three, who was perhaps best known as the co-owner and operator of a handful of car dealerships with his two brothers and father, died unexpectedly Nov. 17.