Remembering Larry Himmel
Larry Himmel, June 13, 1946 — November 5, 2014
The man who loved the fun of today and the promise of tomorrow
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Holtzman was the news director of KFMB-TV who hired Larry Himmel for the station 35 years ago. This is his tribute to the journalist at his memorial service on Nov. 20, 2014, at San Rafael Catholic Church in Rancho Bernardo.)
By Jim Holtzman
I loved Larry … and I’m certainly not alone in that sentiment here today. It helps to know that … and it helps to know that the word “himmel” in German means heaven. How beautiful. How perfect.
I want to set aside all false modesty and humility. I am here this morning to proudly tell you that I’m the guy who put Larry Himmel on television. You have no idea how good that makes me feel … how good it’s made me feel for the last 35 years.
My youngest son told me that for 35 years, Larry’s smile has been the face of San Diego … and his humor its pulse.
In a business where the new usually eases or elbows aside the old, Larry was always new. He was always fresh, always relevant.
Back then, I thought he was a nice guy with an amusing point of view. Really had him measured, didn’t I?
How to explain all that Larry was, all that he became? How to explain someone who meant so much to so many people, whether they knew him only from television or from passing him on the street or were lucky enough to be his friend? The outpouring of genuine love and appreciation that has been expressed in the past week has been extraordinary. And yet..to think about it — it’s not at all surprising.
There are a lot of theories or explanations about what made Larry so special. There are those who will tell you it was his creativity. And they’re right. Here was someone in whom ideas were constantly bubbling. At times he got to talking so fast he was like a little boy telling you about the most exciting day of his life. He had to get those ideas out and get them rolling. He saw things, felt things, understood things, better and differently than we did. Who knew a day at the DMV could be so funny we’d laugh about it more than 30 years later? Somehow, Larry did.
Then there are those who will tell you, “No, with Larry it was really all about his deep talent and versatility.” They, too, are right of course. Need a feature story that could bring a smile or laugh or tear? He was the best. Want to hold up a good-natured mirror to San Diego to expose its blemishes? Well, Larry invented that.
Do the weather? No problem. Live reports from the Chargers’ locker room? No sweat, not from Larry anyway. And in 2007, no one — no one — could have rallied San Diego the way Larry did, standing there reporting live as his home burned to the ground behind him. Talent. Versatility. Professionalism. Courage. Larry.
Still others insist Larry was all about work ethic, being a team player, and having an ego that never got in the way. Right on the mark again. As the host, head writer, main ideas person and absolute cornerstone of the “San Diego at Large” program, Larry had a backbreaking job description. But he didn’t work at it like some coal miner wearily trudging in the gloom each morning. Not close.
He may have recognized the burden and responsibility, but saw it much more as a great opportunity. It was, “Follow me boys and girls, let’s get it done and have the time of our lives doing it.”
1985 to 1988, a half hour five nights a week, 52 weeks a year, and not one program repeated! And it worked. It was good. It was memorable. And with anyone other than Larry, it was impossible.
And finally, people have tried to explain the miracle that was Larry by talking about his great decency. They too understand. He treated everyone with such respect and patience you simply couldn’t help but love him. People who met him once remembered it because he made them feel special. They were the important ones, not him. I would tell you today about the harsh words we had over money, or opportunities, or personality conflicts he had with co-workers. Really, I would. But there weren’t any — not once —how can you not love an employee like that? None of us ever met a more decent person.
So, there’s your explanation for what Larry was and did and why we’re here.
Creativity. Versatility. Work Ethic. Decency.
Nice neat little package. Who among us wouldn’t want the same said about us? But it’s too neat and too little. Larry didn’t do neat. And Larry certainly didn’t do little. You have to add in one more major element of the man. Love.
He loved the Cubs and baseball. And the ponies at Del Mar and Saratoga. And he loved great steaks and barbecue and Chicago pizza and ice cream. He loved
music, all kinds of music. Gospel choirs, the Beat Farmers, Miles Davis.
And he loved suspenders and bowling shirts and zinc oxide. Good ratings, great camera people, big ideas, small ideas, the little guy, and the big guys. Larry loved dogs, especially Cosmo. And bears and lions that had been rescued. And camels, whether it was hump day or not.
He loved the fun of today, the promise of tomorrow. And loyalty and enthusiasm, radio, and Ray Wilson, and San Diego. He loved great words and if they rhymed from time to time, so much the better. He loved seeing the world and whatever he could discover just down the block. Deep down someplace he may have even loved his hair.
He loved his friends and fans and, my goodness, he had a lot of both. Larry loved his mother. And Larry loved us, he really did. He thought we all had a story worth telling. He loved making us laugh. God gave him a gift. Even better, he loved laughing with us. That was Larry’s gift to us.
And he loved Joanie and Miles. Oh, how Larry loved Joanie and Miles! He worshipped his wife. Rightfully so. And he was tremendously proud of his son. With good reason. They were..in the best definition of the word, a family.
Larry Himmel loved life. More specifically, Larry Himmel loved his life! In a bed at Mercy Hospital maybe six weeks ago, he talked about how lucky he’d been, that he’d done so many things, gone so many places..and met so many wonderful people that he’d lived more than any three people. But before he went on, the smile slipped from his face and his eyes filled. Then he added, “There’s so much I’m going to miss.”
Today — with Larry gone — we know we’re the ones who were lucky. We’re the ones missing so much.