Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aztec Icons Remembered

Recently our family of Aztec titans lost two of its charter members: Bob Breitbard and Art Linkletter.

While sad days no doubt, given the fullness and longevity of these lives, their passing provides reasons to celebrate and remember.

These two gentlemen each possessed an extreme abundance of personal charisma. Whether it was genetic or learned is debatable, but what isn’t open to debate is that their futures were forged and nurtured at San Diego State College.

I consider it a phenomenal career perk to have been in a position to know these men, so here are some personal observations of each:

Like most 40-to-90 somethings, my 1960s suburban Massachusetts upbringing included Art Linkletter as a fixture. I fondly remember using the pliers to select the proper channel and fiddling with the hangar-supplemented rabbit ears to partake in Art’s charming interactions. As a lad, I marveled at how Art Linkletter could so live in the moment on live TV and react so entertainingly to the random utterances of children. He exuded warmth, empathy and humor. His show was fun and funny.

So, fast forward 30 years and I am in the car with now-Vice-President-but-then-development-officer, Mary Ruth Carleton, going to visit Art in his Los Angeles offices. Our intent was to get to know him better so that we could ask him for a million or so for athletics and our gerontology center. Art took us to lunch and regaled us with bawdy stories about John Wayne and the Rat Pack. He told us how his good friend, Walt Disney, asked him to emcee the grand opening of his modest amusement park in 1955. Art said that Walt asked him to do it for free because he was uncertain of the park’s financial survival. Art told Walt okay, but managed to extract the concession rights to camera film in perpetuity.

Art also shared with us his infatuation with theater and then radio while he attended SDSC. He was so determined and thrilled to get started here in San Diego. He left little doubt that the nurturing and encouragement he got at State propelled him into one of the longest-running careers in television history.

One smart Aztec.

So, now another:

As a rookie executive director of the Aztec Athletic Foundation in the late ’80s, I was well aware of the status and standing of Bob Breitbard. His resume of giving, support and involvement with San Diego State stretched all the way back to the ’40s when he had even coached the football team one year. The problem was that I didn’t know him. That problem was alleviated when he phoned me one day and most diplomatically suggested that we had under acknowledged his gift to the AAF. With false bravado I blurted out that our record keeping was consistently stellar but if that were not correct I would personally come downtown and mop the floors in his Hall of Champions. That began a long string of marvelous interactions with a most gracious, giving, elegant and engaging Aztec. I was honored to be in that large club of friends with whom Bob shared temporary custody of his Babe Ruth locker tag, his Ted Williams .406 bat and countless other treasures. Between various subsequent stints washing the Hall’s windows and detailing Bob’s car (it turns out our record-keeping was occasionally suspect), I visited with Bob countless times. I always marveled at his perpetually engaging manner as he “pinned,” and kissed all the ladies and regaled everyone with his heart-felt and driven quest to honor our community’s sports history.

Bob Breitbard loved this town, this community, and our university and he proved it every day.

One internationally-famed personality. One enormous community presence.

Two beloved Aztecs.


rebecca said...

Jim, what a wonderful article. I knew neither of them, but I sure feel as if I do now. Thank you for sharing your memories; these are always the most interesting articles to read.

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