UPDATED Sunday, Jan. 3, to include omissions and recent developments:
“Hi Tim, this is Allan Cameron.” It was an unmistakable baritone voice, and he drew out and emphasized the last syllable of his own last name. You and I might say “Cam-uh-run.” He said, “Kam-er-ONNN.”
I first heard that voice in 1989, when I was a cub reporter for The Signal. Allan would call pretty regularly, pitching one story or another. He was a development consultant, activist and environmentalist. Sometimes, figuring out where he was coming from on a particular story was… complicated.
We maintained a good professional relationship through my first 18-year tenure at The Signal, then when I struck out on my own as a PR consultant, I got to know him a bit better after he asked me to help out with the promotional materials for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the SCV Senior Center. We ended up working together on it for a decade.
He was so passionate about certain things, including the environment, animals and the seniors. I have a picture of one of our dogs from the early-1990s, a pomeranian sitting on Santa’s lap. It was Allan — back then, each year he would volunteer to serve as Santa for dogs and cats, so people could have Santa pics with their pets, and raise funds for animal rescue.
When it came to the Senior Center’s Thanksgiving feast, he took great pride in turning it into a bona fide gourmet meal, working with his pal Flo Lawrence on behalf of the Castaic Lions Club to wrangle all the best restaurants in town to contribute high-quality cuisine to feed the seniors, especially those who were homebound or would otherwise not have a Thanksgiving meal to enjoy.
Flo and Allan both brought boundless energy to the Thanksgiving feast, and they were the kinds of guys who would thank you for your help, call you “Brother,” and mean it.
Allan, 75, was devastated in August when Flo died, all too young. Then, this past week, Allan died, too — the latest in a series of gut punches delivered courtesy of 2020.
This past year has reminded me of those “In Memoriam” slide shows they do at the Oscars, remembering those from the industry who have passed in the preceding year.
The “In Memoriam” for the Santa Clarita Valley of 2020 would contain a virtual who’s who of people who have shaped the SCV community and made it unique, including several former SCV men and women of the year.
No secret, it was a tough year, in many ways.
At the risk of omitting anyone — something I truly fear — in addition to Flo and Allan, this is just a partial list of the community figures we have lost in the year past:
- Cheri Fleming, 69, co-owner of Valencia Acura. Cheri had a huge heart, and was sincere in her desire to give back to the community. After she died this past fall, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually spoken to her in about three years. In that last encounter, while I was still doing PR, I was working on a news release about the new career-tech programs being planned in the William S. Hart Union High School District. Cheri and her husband Don were big supporters, and she lit up when she talked about how these programs can help young people get on the fast track toward good-paying careers. There’s no denying the positive impacts Cheri had on our community and numerous nonprofit organizations.
- Roberta Veloz, 84, former owner of Aquafine and a philanthropist and volunteer who was pivotal in supporting Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and the formation of the University Center at College of the Canyons.
- George Caravalho, 81, the first full-time Santa Clarita city manager who guided the city through its formative years.
- Gary Condie, 76, a CPA, philanthropist, supporter of multiple organizations including the SCV Boys & Girls Club, and a devoted Dodgers fan. Gary was, simply put, a really good dude.
- J. Michael McGrath, 83, a highly respected former superintendent of the Newhall School District.
- Mike Gillespie, 80, a legendary local baseball coach for COC who went on to coach at USC.
- Diana Vose, former president of the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation, who was instrumental in facilitating the hospital’s evolution to accommodate the needs of a growing community.
- Richard Keysor, 91, former Keysor-Century executive who was one of the hospital’s founding board members.
- Steve Schmidt, 72, a former executive with The Newhall Land and Farming Co., was known for his volunteer work with the SCV Boys & Girls Club, and was a former SCV man of the year.
- Pat Allen, known for her volunteerism with the Boys & Girls Club, Red Cross and Canyon Theatre Guild, was a former SCV woman of the year. I learned of Allen’s death last week after the print version of this column was completed.
- Rob McFerren, 64, was a cofounder with his wife, Laina, of Wolf Creek brewery and restaurant. I also learned of his death after the print version of this column was prepared, almost as if the hits from 2020 just wouldn’t stop coming. Rob and Laina have turned Wolf Creek into a hub for fundraisers supporting local nonprofits, and their hospitality has made Wolf Creek a community staple. In October, I wrote a column recounting how my wife and I were at our favorite local microbrewery when we first heard about the COVID-19 lockdown in March. It was Wolf Creek.
- Jake Worden, 20, died on Christmas Day. He was a bright young student at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, and part of one of our valley’s signature families: His grandmother was one of our city founders, Connie Worden-Roberts, and his dad is my old friend and former Signal colleague Leon Worden, who runs SCVTV. I know Leon was so proud of his boy, and my heart goes out to him.
In all, 2020 claimed three former SCV men of the year and three former SCV women of the year — an unusual toll, due to a variety of causes.
It could just be the moment that I’m feeling, but I don’t recall another year in which we’ve lost so many impactful members of our community. They were all our SCV brothers and sisters — and they’ll all be missed.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.