Remembering Guyburt Pierce



Lifelong West Sacramento resident Guyburt Pierce passed away last week at the age of 64 after a courageous battle with cancer. He didn’t want any services to be held or any fuss to be made over his leaving this life that he so loved, but I do recall a little conversation we had a few years ago shortly after the death of his best friend, Bob Watts, which went something like this:

“When I die, Fish, you’re not going to say something nice about me in that newspaper column of yours, are you?”

“Guyburt,” I assured him, “finding something nice to say about you would take way too much time and effort. And stop calling me Fish!”

“I was just checking, Fish.”

When I first met Guyburt Pierce, he was going through what I like to call his “hoodlum stage.” It was way back in the early 1960s and we were attending West Sacramento’s James Marshall High School together. We somehow ended up having numerous classes together and that is when he started calling me Fish, a childhood nickname he knew I hated. Anyway, after letting him cheat off one of my history tests, he decided I just might be cool enough to allow me to meet some of his other hoodlum friends. They all dressed in long black trench coats and wore very pointed black hard shoes and could usually be found at lunch time out at “the tree.”

DARYL FISHER, the author, a News-Ledger columnist

The tree (an ancient and majestic oak) was on campus and located way out by the maintenance facilities, and what made it unique was that the ground behind it was three or four feet lower than the rest of the nearby terrain, and if you sat down behind it, none of the teachers or the vice principal in charge of discipline could see you. So that is where all the hoodlums gathered after lunch to have their noonday smoke. And it wasn’t like the rest of the school didn’t know that Guyburt and all his buddies were out there puffing away on their Marlboros. I mean, there was enough smoke floating up into the air that it looked like a small tribe of Indians were out there signaling each other. Anyway, with Guyburt as my sponsor, I was allowed to hang out at the tree now and then, but no matter how hard I tried, Guyburt was the only hoodlum who wanted to be my friend.

As is often the case with high school friends, they graduate and go their separate ways, but as one of those simple twists of fate would have it, Guyburt and I were destined to cross paths again, about a decade later, when my wife and I decided to rent a little house on Laurel Lane. And much to my surprise, Guyburt Pierce and his growing family were living right across the street. And it wasn’t long before his daughter, Amy, and my daughter, Carrie, decided to become best friends forever. By then, though, Guyburt had had the good sense to marry his high school sweetheart, Janell Hawkins, and she had quickly brought his hoodlum days to a screeching halt. And not only had Guyburt somehow become a model citizen, he was now also the straight man for one of the funniest comedy teams in town.

“What I remember most about growing up with Amy,” said my daughter, “is that when I was over at the Pierce’s house, which was all the time, I hardly ever stopped laughing. Jan was always saying the funniest things, or Guyburt would be telling one of his corny and usually politically incorrect jokes that went on forever, and it somehow usually ended up with everyone ganging up on poor Guyburt, but he always took everything in stride with that great smile of his. I have so many fond memories of those days, especially all the times Guyburt and Jan took me and Amy along with them on their Sea Ranch vacations, where we would have the greatest meals and laugh the days and nights away. And on the drive over there, when we would pass Skaggs Island, Guyburt would always say, `Okay Amy and Carrie, this is where you two girls get out.”

As the years went by, Guyburt and Jan moved over to Park Boulevard, and after Guyburt retired from the Pacific Bell telephone company, he could usually be found on sunny days sitting comfortably out by his garage door in an easy chair, being what Amy called “the unofficial hall monitor of Park Boulevard”. He hated to see cars going over the 25 mph speed limit and if they did, he would yell and wag his finger at them. And if they were really speeding, he would often do more with his finger than just wag it.

By the time Guyburt was patrolling Park Boulevard, I had moved a few blocks away from him and would pass by his house daily on my walks, and if he was outside soaking up the sun, he would usually yell out, “Hey, Fish, have you heard the one about…..”

If I wasn’t in a hurry to get where I was going (one Guyburt joke usually led to a half-dozen others, not to mention that his head was full of enough trivia to put Cliff Clavin to shame), I would sit down for a few minutes and try to unsuccessfully take the place of Bob Watts, who had spent decades listening to Guyburt’s stories and enjoying every minute of it. And there was simply no way to spend time with Guyburt and not walk away feeling a little better about your day. He was a genuinely good and decent man, and it would show, no matter how hard he tried to keep it under wraps.

If life is about loving your family, and sharing laughter with those who have enriched your life, and valuing good friends, and eating great food, and traveling to pretty places, then Guyburt indeed had a life well-lived!

     Hemingway once wrote that all a man really has to do in this life is get two things right – he has to marry right, and he has to die right – and Guyburt Pierce certainly did both of those as well as any man can ever hope to do. He did the hospice thing at home with courage and dignity, and his last words on this earth were about his “beautiful Jan.”

Godspeed my old friend. And be sure to tell Bobby hi for me.

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