Sad to see the Beacon go; fond memories of former Beacon publisher Dwight O'Dell

Guest commentary

By Bill Kier

As an old newspaperman (publisher, editor, reporter, cartoonist and pressman at the "Orange Peal," Orangevale, Calif., elementary school's widely-acclaimed house organ, back in 1947-49), the demise of any newspaper saddens me.

In the case of the Beacon, the demise takes with it one of many fond memories: my (unintended) night, and breakfast, with Beacon publisher Dwight O'Dell.

For a number of wrong reasons, Jerry Brown's father, Pat Brown, decided to run for a third term as California's Governor back in the mid-1960s. I was, at that time, a supervising Calif. Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) biologist who had slipped my leash and loaned myself to the newly-formed, understaffed State Resources Agency.

The Agency was headed by former San Diego State Senator Hugo Fisher. Fisher brought his old Calif. Democratic Council cohort and Fort Bragg fish buyer and processor friend Bill Grader in as his side-rod.

Under Grader's tutelage my job evolved into getting Fisher safely to his meetings up and down the state, briefing him about Calif., natural resources as we drove or flew, and trying to keep him out of trouble when he'd had too much to drink.

Bill Grader thought what the campaign needed was a North Coast economic futures conference, which he organized in fall, 1965 at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa, the closest thing to a conference hotel (well, one where you could get any media coverage anyway) anywhere near the North Coast in those days. Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood riots broke out that summer and Governor Brown appointed former CIA director John McCone to head an investigation into their causes and possible cure.

The only person on earth more imperious than McCone was Fisher -- who'd been double-booked to keynote the Santa Rosa conference and testify before McCone in Los Angeles.

I arranged for the CDFG plane to pick us up at, and return us to Santa Rosa. Getting Fisher to buckle under to McCone's (who he despised) insistence that Hugo appear in person that early morning in LA was like loading a raging bull into a pickup

But we made it down and back and Fisher was finally able to take his rightful place in somebody's suite back at the Flamingo that evening - vodka in one hand, cigar in the other, spinning one Sacramento-D.C political story after the other.

I had the distinct impression that night that some Sonoma County shysters were trying to get Fisher laid, to whatever end, and I recall trying my damnedest to stay awake to head that off. But I was bone tired -- we'd been on the go for four or five days at that point.

And, on one trip to the bathroom, I realized that this place had two bedrooms. And one was totally devoid of luggage -- and had two twin beds. And I thought oh, jeez, if I could just lay down for a few minutes. And so I did. The next thing I knew, someone put a glass of orange juice on the bedstand beside me and asked me how I liked my eggs!

And that's how I met my accidental host, Humboldt Beacon publisher Dwight O'Dell -- who proceeded to fix me a wonderful breakfast and tell me the absolutely fascinating story of how, when he got out of the service at the end of World War II, he worked as an errand boy (a 'bagman' in fact) for infamous Sacramento lobbyist Artie Samish (see

Dwight's Samish stories were absolutely amazing -- and they squared in every detail with those in the autobiography that Samish wrote in federal prison and finally published six years later. Although we were at opposite political poles I enjoyed my breakfast with Dwight, and my continuing friendship with him for as long as we could stay in touch -- and I'm sorry to see 'his' newspaper go down!