“One of his true talents was teaching. He was a great teacher,” said Phillip Squier of his father, Gary Squier, 72, who died peacefully on Saturday night, Nov. 24, in his daughter’s home in Solana Beach after battling pancreatic cancer. Phillip and his sister, Laura Baugh, and other family members were by his side.
Gary was best known to people in Idyllwild as an English literature and history teacher, and assistant editor/reporter/photographer and columnist for the Idyllwild Town Crier.
He grew up in Minneapolis and Heartland, Wisc., Phillip said. He went to Pasadena City College and later California State University, Los Angeles. His first teaching job was at Franklin Roosevelt High School in a tough L.A. neighborhood in the 1960s, Phillip said. “He wasn’t afraid, but I don’t think he had much of a choice back then.”
His first big teaching job, however, was at Marina High School in Huntington Beach. Gloria Roberts, of Nevada City, who knew Gary for 40 years, said it was a big step for him to sell his house there and move up to Idyllwild. They had met at Pasadena City College where Gary had just gotten out of the service and was earning a teaching degree with the G.I. bill, she said. He and her late husband, Anthony “Kal” Roberts, were Zeta Sig fraternity brothers together and shared a love of photography.
Roberts had invited Gary to a Thanksgiving holiday in Idyllwild. He walked around a bit, then said, ‘I think I could live here,’” she recalled.
“Keep in mind that wherever we lived was generally tied to my dad’s being able to write,” Phillip said. For instance, he took a caretaker’s job at Pathfinder Ranch in Garner Valley without knowing much about farm work. “We had cows, horses, chickens and sheep. After a few chores and mending a fence or two, my dad could sit down and write,” he said.
He and Laura grew up in a creative atmosphere, Phillip said. “Everything was creatively driven. Once we drove up to a San Francisco Peace March and picketed Richard Nixon,” he said. “Of course, we drove up in a VW bus, picking up hitchhikers along the way.”
Gary traveled widely in Asia, Eastern Europe and Saudi Arabia. “He spoke Japanese pretty well, but not Arabic, but he knew enough to get by,” Phillip said. Gary once moved the family to Japan. Phillip was 4 or 5, but the moves were more difficult for his mother, the former Sally Squier, who changed her name to Sara Andryuk. The 16-year marriage ended in divorce, and Gary never remarried.
“He loved to whistle a tune as he entered a room,” Roberts recalled. “In his writing, he was direct. He shook people up and forced them to look at things differently.”
“When it came to politics, he was a fierce Democrat, and any discussion that dealt with differences of opinion on national politics drew him into strong debates,” said Becky Clark, editor-publisher of the Idyllwild Town Crier.
Gary wrote two books that were never published, Phillip said. Both were novels about their family life. Unfortunately, the typewritten manuscripts were likely destroyed. Gary also wrote a couple of episodes for the hit TV series “The Mod Squad,” but they were never aired.
In 1978-79, father and son worked together on The Desert Magazine, in which Gary was co-publisher, writer, typesetter and photographer. After a couple of years, however, he sold the magazine.
Gary worked for the Town Crier in the 1970s, the late 1990s to early 2000, and then again in 2006 and 2007. Clark said she liked his intelligence and brevity in writing. “His columns reflected a mind that absorbed and recorded the world about him, and he had a great interest in national and international affairs,” she said. “And, he loved this community.”
“Gary was a fine stylist and I always looked forward to his column in the Town Crier,” said friend Steve Hudson, on the Visual Arts faculty at Idyllwild Arts. “Many of these were reminiscences, but never too windy or sentimental. I marveled at how he could pack so much meaning into so few words. Hemingway would have approved.”
Gary mentored a lot of people in Idyllwild; among them was Gene “Geno” Schneider of Idyllwild, who met him in the 1970s. “I just loved to visit with him,” Schneider said. “He’d recommend different books to me, then we’d talk about them. He had an interest in Zen Buddhism.”
Tim Bennett of Idyllwild, another longtime friend, said Gary was a good photographer. “Once on a hike, Gary took a photo of my dogs that I will always cherish,” he said. Donna Lind, another longtime friend and Gary’s landlord, ended up with his dog, Gus. “We shared a yard, so naturally, Gus was part mine,” she said. “There was such an outpouring of love for him,” Lind said. “When his friends would visit him in Solana Beach, he really enjoyed those times.”
Three weeks ago, Schneider and Bennett went to visit him there. “We sat on the porch with his son and grandson, and you could tell that he felt safe,” Schneider said. “His struggle was over.”
Gary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by a sonogram at the University of Irvine, Phillip said. That type of cancer is difficult to diagnose.
“He was intellectual, stubborn and definitely had certain principles about things, but during the last few years of his life, he changed,” Phillip recalled. “He was seeing his life in the sunset. His last days were our most intense and sweetest time together.”
Gary’s friends said he was also an actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, film buff, bass player and athlete. He once popped an Achilles’ tendon while playing tennis with Marshall Hawkins, music director of the Jazz in the Pines. “I don’t know how it happened, but he came back, though,” Hawkins said.
He and Gary had worked together 20 years ago at the former Elliott-Pope Preparatory School [now Astro Camp.] “He had an incredible love for music and I was always at the other end of his camera,” Hawkins said. “He was a very dear, bright, kind and gentle man.”
Café Aroma and the Town Crier are inviting friends of Gary Squier to remember him at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Aroma. Family members plan to spread Gary’s ashes in a special place in Garner Valley.