Pete Wilson was a San Francisco Bay Area institution in local television news and talk radio. He was my favorite local television news anchor when I lived in the Bay Area, appearing week-nightly on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, and, broadcasting on weekday afternoons from 2 until 4 on venerable KGO radio, he has been my favorite talk show host for the past year or so.
It took me awhile to like him on talk radio, because my initial impression of him was that he was too politically conservative for my taste on a radio station that presented itself as being balanced but was, in reality, too skewed toward the conservative end of the spectrum, even if not nearly as much so as "fair and balanced" FOX News.
But as I underwent some change, becoming, I would like to think, more genuinely fair and balanced in my own politics, and I listened to Pete more closely, I began to enjoy his program more and more and to gain increasing respect for his formidable intelligence, wide-ranging knowledge, articulateness, ability to examine an issue fairly even when he began with a strong opinion about it, and his ability and willingness to treat his callers with respectful even-handedness. I came to love his opening monologues and skillful interviews. I came to admire his character and wisdom. I came to see him as an eminently decent and good-hearted man beneath his somewhat gruff, straight-shooting exterior. He was a man I would have been honored and blessed to have as a friend had I been able to.
Last Tuesday afternoon, I heard him announce on his radio program that he would be having hip replacement surgery Thursday and that other hosts would be filling in for him until his return. I never gave it a second thought. After all, hip replacement surgery is very common and quite safe as surgeries go.
Had I listened to his opening monologue of the closing hour of his program the next day, I might have felt a little different. Here is part of that, in retrospect, extraordinary monologue that now sends chills down my spine:
I'm having hip replacement surgery tomorrow. I did this once before, about thirteen years ago. I was 49, and I barely thought about it then. I just did it. After all, it's not like it's open-heart surgery. I'm just gettin' a wheel changed. But this time I am driving myself nuts with anxiety about this, and I don't know why. What's different? Maybe it's that I'm older and a lot closer to the tail-end than the front. Mortality is now an actual thought on occasion. Never mind that they do 200,000 hip replacement surgeries a year in this country alone and there are very few disasters. But adrenaline is now playing havoc with my system. I am nervous. My stomach is rumbling like a John Williams movie score, and I'm producing more belches than an eighteen-year-old in a beer-drinking contest...
But even if I HAD heard this, I would have probably chalked it up to preoperative jitters and nothing more, and I would not have worried about him in the least.
Today I happened to go online and check out the SF Gate website, and a headline caught my eye and filled my heart with shock and sadness to the core. Pete Wilson suffered a massive heart attack early in his hip replacement procedure late Thursday and was placed on life support that was withdrawn Friday night, and he was officially declared dead at 9:20 PM. He was 62 and left behind a wife and 19-year-old son.
I do not know why I am so affected by this, but I feel deeply sad. Perhaps it is partly because I had seen and heard Pete Wilson so long and so much that I regarded him as part of the family. Perhaps it is partly because his utterly unexpected (except, perhaps, by him) death reminds me of the precariousness of my own existence on this "mortal coil" and fills me with regret over how much time I have seemingly wasted doing so little when I might have done so much more.
I do not know for sure why I feel the way I do right now, but I will miss Pete Wilson. Rest in peace.