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Mean Gene Okerlund, dead at 76, admired Bill Walsh and favored Bay Area eateries

By Dr. Mike Lano
Special to S.F. Examiner

Pro-wrestling legendary announcer Eugene “Mean Gene” Okerlund died Tuesday at age 76. A longtime voice of the professional wrestling industry, Okerlund had a long history in the Bay Area.

Born in Sisseton, North Dakota on Dec. 19, 1942, and spending his earliest days in the indusrty in Minneapolis, he once told me backstage at an event at the Cow Palace in 1997, “When I finally made big money in WWF, I immediately moved to anyplace warmer.”

Okerlund started in the American Wrestling Alliance, which promoted in the Bay Area at both the Cow Palace and Oakland Arena, after the original Bay Area wrestling promoter kingpin, my boss Roy Shire, folded his tent in January of 1982.

When Okerlund came to the Bay Area as a part of WCW, he favored the world-famous Original Joe’s, but also frequented Little Joe’s and Joe’s of Westlake, which he claimed was his second favorite restaurant.

Bay Area fans fondly remember Gene for his WWF videos training with Hulk Hogan, in order to hype a special tag-team match pairing him with Hogan, where Gene even got the eventual pin on former 1976 Cow Palace U.S. Champion Mr Fuji.

“After Hogan did all the ring work and simply tagged me in,” said Okerlund, who worked with the WWF from 1983 to 1996, before moving to Ted Turner’s WCW from 1996-2001, before returning to the WWF (then WWE, as of 2002).

Okerlund began his weekly television announcing and interviewing career by fluke. In 1976, when AWA wrestler/promoter Verne Gagne’s longtime announcer Marty O’Neill briefly went on strike with others from the television station where their studio wrestling was taped, Okerlund was already a well-known rock radio DJ in the area, with a decent voice.

“[Gagne] called in a panic, and I told him I knew little about wrestling,” Okerlund said back on my radio show in 2000. “Verne liked what I did, ring announcing and doing some locker-room interviews, so he soon hired me to primarily do the latter which I became famous for. I was far better at that than calling matches, play-by-play or doing ring announcing. I added in some of the baloney ballyhoo stuff I’d later become famous for, trying to add excitement to liven up Verne’s shows.”

The gregarious Okerlund for decades dropped many names of people he idolized — but most likely had never met — when he’d promote towns for upcoming shows, shown locally here every Saturday morning on KOFY TV 20. He’d drop NFL names like Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and especially Bill Walsh for Bay Area market shows, and even Raider, Giants and A’s top names for the specially-taped regional promotional spots. He once told me he watched “as many 49er games as time allows.”

“I may not have known them at all when I started, but later rectified that,” Gene told me. “There was no bigger mark(fan) for Bill Walsh than me. Just the greatest football coach we’ve ever had.”

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Okerlund did wrestling commentary in several movies, beginning with the Hulk Hogan vehicle “No Holds Barred” in 1989, and of course he was best known for hosting the weekly desk segments hyping WWF pay-per-views, and for outrageous storyline angles on weekly shows like Pro Wrestling Challenge, Superstars, WWE Confidential and many other shows for Vince McMahon Jr., including PrimeTime Wrestling Mondays on the USA network.

Hogan inducted Okerlund into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2006, naturally. Okerlund remained friends with everyone he traveled with on the sports road, from Hogan to Macho Man Savage, Brutus Beefcake, Million Dollar Man Ted Debiase and Bay Area wrestling legends Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Pepper Gomez, Roddy Piper and many others.

Tuesday morning, just minutes after news broke, all the biggest names from WWE and the entertainment world paid tribute to Okerlund online, including Triple-H, Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who grew up in Hayward), Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels, along with current WWE stars like Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair.

Gene had often told me his fondest moments in our industry was doing commentary with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon, “and attempting poker plus karaoke with Pat Patterson who’s the master at doing Sinatra,” he said.

His gentle trash talk and banter with Heenan spanned from the AWA to WWF, WCW and back to WWF again when he and Heenan jointly called their very last match together at Wrestlemania 17, which was the very last match Heenan ever called before aggressive throat cancer set in.

Just months ago, he was back on WWE Raw’s special 25th anniversary show interviewing current stars like AJ Styles. He leaves behind his wife since 1964 Jeanne Okerlund, his BiteBurgers fast-food franchise and a global legion of millions of fans.

S.F. area dentist/photojournalist Dr. Mike Lano was a longtime Examiner sports/arts columnist and still hosts his nationally syndicated CBS and SiriusXM Radio Shows

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William Newsom, father of Gavin Newsom, dies at age 84

William Newsom, a retired state appellate court justice and father of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, died Wednesday morning at his home in San Francisco. He was 84.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed the elder Newsom to the Superior Court bench in Placer County in 1975 and he was later appointed to California’s Court of Appeal, where he served until retiring in 1995. He was a lifelong resident of San Francisco and well connected in San Francisco’s political and social circles.

Newsom had grown increasingly ill in recent months, although the nature of his illness was not released by his family. This week the governor-elect canceled events to spend time with his father.

“The Newsom family is deeply saddened to announce that the governor-elect’s father — avid environmentalist and retired Justice William Alfred Newsom III — passed away peacefully this morning at 9:59 a.m. at his home in San Francisco,” said the incoming governor’s spokesman, Nathan Click, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “Justice Newsom was a proud, lifelong Californian, a public servant of profound accomplishment and a powerful voice for individual rights and environmental protection.”

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday released a statement offering condolences.”Bill was a longtime friend, a champion of the environment and someone whom I was proud to appoint to the Superior Court and Court of Appeal,” Brown said. William Newsom, known as “Bill” among friends and family, was born in San Francisco in 1934.

His father was in the construction industry and his mother sold stock for PG&E. Newsom married his wife, Tessa, in 1966 and the couple had their son Gavin a year later and a daughter, Hilary — now Hilary Newsom Callan — in 1968. The couple divorced when Gavin was still a boy. Tessa Newsom died at 55 in 2002 after a long fight with breast cancer.

Newsom was a longtime friend and former high school classmate of Gordon Getty, son of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, and managed the Getty family trust. He was such a close confidant to the Gettys that he helped deliver nearly $3 million in ransom after the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson, John Paul Getty III.

“I do see the family as almost an extension of my own,” Newsom said of the Gettys in an interview a decade ago for a UC Berkeley oral history project on his life. “It’s difficult to talk on the subject without dipping into the realm of cliche. It’s true that great wealth, by itself, never made anybody happy. The only people I’ve ever seen who are satisfied with life are people who achieve something beyond mere wealth.”

As a judge, Newsom was a steadfast believer in rehabilitation for felons in the criminal justice system. In 1980, he sat on a panel of judges that overturned sentences of life without the possibility of parole for defendants in the Chowchilla bus kidnapping case, paving the way for the eventual release of two of them.

The 1976 crime involved three men from wealthy families who kidnapped more than two dozen schoolchildren and their bus driver, burying them alive in a Livermore, Calif., quarry and demanding a $5-million ransom from the state. All 27 victims escaped by digging their way out of the buried moving van.

Newsom supported parole for the kidnappers, saying it was a “mad-hatter stunt” with no “vicious aspect to it.”
After two decades on the bench, William Newsom retired in 1995.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco praised Newsom for his generosity and years of public service, calling his death a major loss to the city and state he loved.

“Bill was a proud third-generation San Franciscan, who devoted his full public and private life to our city,” Pelosi said in statement. ” As a state court judge and then an appellate judge, Bill worked relentlessly to uphold liberty and justice for all Californians. He took great pride in being raised Irish American, Catholic and Democratic, and commitment to public service ran through his entire life.”

In an interview last year, Gavin Newsom fondly recalled spending summers as a boy with his father in the mountainous town of Dutch Flat in Placer County, where his father also had a home. Newsom said he father was more comfortable in the rugged former mining town than in the big city of San Francisco. His rustic home had an impressive collection of books, which the elder Newsom enjoyed reading in the bathtub, his son said.

“The thing I value most of my father is he is the exact same person to the stranger at the bar playing Liar’s Dice as he is to King Juan Carlos in Spain,” Newsom said in the interview last year. “It’s really an extraordinary life that he’s lived, amazing adventures and relationships, and he was one of the great old Irish storytellers. You could spend 10 hours listening to him. But there’s an empathy and a connection that’s universal to everybody, and a sense of service.”

It was in Dutch Flat that his father impressed upon his son a reverence for the environment and the rural expanses of California.
“There’s this sort of duality I’ve always had, these two mind-sets,” Gavin Newsom said of what he gained spending time with his father. “This deep urban mind-set, but also a real respect and admiration for the rural parts of the state.”

William Newsom helped found the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation and fought for a ballot measure that protected the animal. In retirement, he became more active in environmental causes, giving his time to organizations including the Sierra Foundation, Earth Justice and the Environmental Defense Fund.

“It’s freed me up to speak out more vocally and loudly on the subject and I have no restraints any longer, and if anything, in the intervening 15 years I’ve grown to appreciate more than ever the importance of the environment and the importance to my children, to my children’s children to experience the beauty of creation,” Newsom said of retirement in the UC Berkeley interview.

Longtime San Francisco political veteran John Burton, former chair of the state Democratic Party and a close friend of the Newsoms, described the retired judge as “highly committed” environmentalist. Burton recalled meeting Newsom when they were both teenagers along the Russian River, a popular summer hangout for Bay Area locals.

“He was a special guy. He had a sense of humor, he had a warmth. We used to do our share of drinking when we were 18 or 19,” Burton said. “I’ll miss him so much that I can’t really describe it.”

Newsom is survived by his son Gavin Newsom, daughter Hilary Newsom Callan and six grandchildren.

Times staff writers Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.


Charles G. Wilson Jr.

Charles G. Wilson Jr., 95, of Los Altos, passed away peacefully on the evening of Monday November 6, 2017. He is survived by his beloved wife of 44 years, Norma E. Wilson, his step-daughter Cindie and her caring husband Mike, three grandchildren Brian (Cybele), Scott (Natalie) and Kristi (Sean), six great-grandchildren, Zach, Mikaela, Grant, Giselle, Kate and Ivy, and nieces Lisa and Maureen.

Born in Long Island, New York, June 21, 1922. The son of Elizabeth Sullivan and Charles G. Wilson, Sr., he was one five children, the second oldest, with three brothers and one sister. 

He enrolled in the Navy in July of 1940, at the age of 18. He served from 1940-1946. He was deployed on the USS San Francisco, and saw action at Pearl Harbor. He was one of the oldest and few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. In August of 1946, at the age of 24, he concluded his military service and returned to San Francisco, where he lived and worked for a majority of his life. 

Charles made a career in the food industry, working at several restaurants in San Francisco. He spent some of the most enjoyable years of his career as an assistant manager at the Olympic Club, where after 13 years of service, he retired and was honored with a lifetime membership.

He and his wife Norma moved to Los Altos in 1975, and eventually retired there. Charles was an avid reader. He also enjoyed traveling with Norma, taking trips to Palm Springs, and taking cruises to various locations. Charles loved to play and watch golf. Although Charles had access to one of the most prestigious golf courses in the area, he made a rule of never playing golf while he was working.  One of his most memorable experiences was working the 1987 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.

The family would like express their gratitude to the staff and doctors of the VA in Palo Alto, and especially the staff and doctors of the VA in Menlo Park. He was always treated with the utmost respect and kindness.

There will be a public closed-casket visitation on Wednesday, November 15 from 2-4pm with a rosary at 3:00pm in the Los Altos Chapel at Spangler Mortuary 399 So. San Antonio, Los Altos, CA 94022

There will also be a Funeral Mass Thursday November 16 at 10:00am at St. Williams Catholic Church 611 S. El Monte Ave. Los Altos Hills, CA 94022 followed by a graveside service at 11:30am at Gates of Heaven Cemetery 22555 Cristo Rey Dr. Los Altos, CA 94024

A reception will follow at Bella Vita Restaurant 376 1st. St. Los Altos, Ca 94022

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Charles’ honor to the Veteran’s Association. More information can be found at https://www.paloalto.va.gov/giving/


Daniel Henry Curran

Daniel Henry Curran, 72 of Bayfield, passed from this world to the next on Mon., Jan. 29 in Rochester, Minn. with his daughters at his side, after an extended battle with cancer. He was born on June 29, 1945, in Elkhorn, Wis. to Agnes Josephine (Meyerhofer) Curran and George Francis Curran, of Lake Geneva.

As a child he attended Central School and St. Francis de Sales Catholic School, later graduating from Badger High School. Daniel’s undergraduate education began at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; he later joined the U.S. Army Reserves and finished his architectural degree at the University of Milwaukee, where he also attended graduate school. Initially, he was a draftsman for Johnson, Wagner, Eisley, Widen and Hipp of Milwaukee, assisting with plans for the Milwaukee Area Technical College and South Division High School. Once he became a registered architect, he opened his own practice in Lake Geneva. Designs by his firm ran the gamut, though Daniel particularly enjoyed historic preservation and renovation. Among many projects, he guided the renovation of St. Francis de Sales Church, the Riviera, Holy Communion Episcopal Church, and Landmark Center in Lake Geneva, Wis.; renovated the St. Francis Friary in Burlington, Wis., and designed many new homes. From 1989 to 1996 he worked for the Red Cliff Housing Authority and helped rehabilitate more than 130 houses through the Comprehensive Assistance Improvement Program, funded through H.U.D. In 1996 he started on a related path of building inspection, and worked for the City of Superior, later becoming the city’s chief building inspector.

Along with his paid work, Daniel took pride in serving others. He was president of the Lake Geneva Rotary Club, he was elected to the Lake Geneva City Council for a two-year term, and was a member of the Lake Geneva Planning Commission. He also served on the Bayfield, Wis. Architectural Review Board, the Bayfield Historic Planning Committee, and the Bayfield Comprehensive Planning Committee. With Roger Bristol, Daniel was instrumental in the creation of Bayfield’s Fountain Garden Park. He volunteered as a Lay Leader of Prayer for the St. Francis Catholic Church in Red Cliff, Wis., Holy Family Catholic Church in Bayfield, St. Louis Catholic Church in Washburn, Wis., St. Joseph Catholic Church in La Pointe, Wis., and St. Ann Catholic Church in Cornucopia, Wis. Through leading prayer, lecturing and serving at Mass, Daniel gained great joy and deepened his faith.

Daniel is survived by his daughters, Katherine (Justin) Hansen of Bayfield, and Claudia (Andrew) Broman of Janesville, Wis.; his grandchildren, Alex and Carter Hansen, and Evelyn and Nelson Broman; brothers Thomas Curran of El Cajon, Calif. and Patrick Curran of Rockford, Ill., and sister Helene Churchill of Lake Geneva, Wis. along with countless people he has touched throughout his life. He was preceded in death by his second wife, Joyce Evelyn Grant, the mother of his children; two sisters, Rosemary Lemire of Escanaba, Mich., and Kathleen Wilson, of Lake Geneva, brother Gerald Curran, and his parents. He will be greatly missed.

Mass of Christian Burial will be 11:00 am on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, at St. Francis Catholic Church, Red Cliff. With Visitation from 10:00 am to 11:00 am at the church, also, 2 pm to 4 pm on Sunday, Feb. 4th , with a prayer service at 3:30 pm at the Bratley Funeral Home Chapel in Washburn. Father Kevin Gordon and Father Brian Dulli Officiating. Interment at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, with military honors performed by the Apostle Islands Honor Guard.


Terry Harry Roach

June 25, 1940 – September 10, 2016

Terry passed away peacefully with his devoted wife of 33 years, Linda, and loving daughter, Terrie, at his side. Terry was surrounded by loving church members, as well as loving family and friends who stood by him as he battled lung cancer with the same verve with which he lived his life.

Terry is survived by his brothers, John (Sharon) of Concord; Rob (Janine) of Pacifica; son, Danny, of Walnut Creek; daughter, Terrie (Dave) Simpson of Discovery Bay; grandchildren, Kris, Cassie, Serena, Justin; great-grandson, Tyler; sister-in-law, Laura Blue, of Pacifica; and many loving nieces, nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces.

As a native San Franciscan, he loved being a Teamster Union member of Local 85 for 46 years; SF Old Timers Baseball Assoc.; N.C.V. Boxers Assoc. and Mazzetti’s Pacifica Bakery 5 AM’er’s Coffee Crew. Terry was often seen traveling about San Francisco and the Peninsula visiting familiar faces and places. His smiling face and quick wit will be greatly missed.

A Celebration Of Life Memorial Service will be held by Terry’s Home Church Family at TAPESTRY CHURCH, 1305 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA on Saturday, November 5th at 10:00 AM.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to: www.gofundme.terryroachmemorial.com which will help support Bethlehem A.D., the annual event which Terry always loved being a part of. Sponsored by Tapestry Church, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable donation


Konstantinos “Gus” Vardakastanis

Konstantinos “Gus” Vardakastanis passed away in San Francisco on Friday, September 22, 2017 at the age of 57. Gus was a well-loved and well-known local San Francisco businessman and the owner of Gus’s Community Markets. His strong presence and deep sense of caring for his family, and his customers, who he treated as family, was sincere and long lasting.

Gus was predeceased by his father – Dimitrios Vardakastanis. He is survived by his mother – Eleni Vardakastanis, his wife – Georgia Vardakastanis and his two sons – Dimitri Vardakastanis (Penny) and Bobby Vardakastanis (Katerina), brother – Yianni Vardakastanis (Nitsa), sister – Angelica Skiadopoulos (George), nephews – Yianni Skiadopoulos (Lina), Dimitri Skiadopoulos, and niece – Eleni Vardakastanis (Achilleas), and four beloved grandchildren – Giorgia, Kostaki, Kosta, and Eva Vardakastanis.

Gus was born September 15, 1960, on the island of Zakynthos, Greece (Vasilikos).

Gus immigrated to San Francisco in 1976 at the age of 16, with his family where he found work at various produce markets.

In 1981, Gus decided to go back to the island where he met and wed Georgia on February 1, 1981. Together, they returned to San Francisco and in the summer of 1981, Gus and his father fulfilled their dream of opening their own produce market in the Haight. Four years later, they opened a second market in the Outer Sunset (Noriega Produce).

In the early 1990s, Gus and his sons, Dimitri and Bobby, who were actively a part of the business by then, moved locations to expand Haight Street Market and in 2011, added a full-service market to better serve the community Gus loved so dearly. His hard work was rewarded with extreme loyalty from the neighborhood and his work ethic was seen not only through his sons, but through the many employees that have been through the “School of Gus.”

In 2013, Gus and his sons started working on the development of Gus’s Community Market in the Mission, allowing them to serve yet another neighborhood in the city. This endeavor expanded on the vision of what Gus created over the past 30 years, with the same heart and passion for customer service, community and pride in quality products that he had applied to his other two markets.

Gus was the hardest working man everyone knew, but he was still able to find a balance between work and family. Recently he was able to let go of the reigns to his sons and long term employees, while still maintaining a presence at the store, in order to spend more time with his wife and young grandchildren. In Sonoma, Gus fulfilled one of his life long dreams of producing his own family wine and discovered his love and passion for growing his own food. He built a sanctuary for himself and his family, to enjoy the fruits of his labor and after 36 years of marriage, was able to spend more time with Georgia. Their love was an unconditional love that matured over the years into an enduring bond that was visible to all who knew them. A love like theirs is timeless.

Gus also took pride in his sons and the lives they have created for themselves and their own families. The relationship that Gus had with his two sons, Dimitri and Bobby was more than simply father and child. They were colleagues, business partners, and best friends. They had a mutual respect and truly depended upon each other. This trio was rarely seen apart and these memories will never fade.

In the last years we all saw Gus’s new found love of the land of growing his own produce and gardening, and rewarded himself for his lifelong hard work. Over his 30 years in San Francisco, he was still very connected to his family and community in Zakynthos. This year, for the first time, Gus was able to take his sons and their families on a once in a lifetime vacation to the island where he was born.

Everyone who met Gus loved him immediately, he had a strong presence and his connections were deep and long lasting. Family was always first, he always made sure everyone was taken care of, and he never held resentments towards anyone. He leaves a void in all our hearts that will never be filled. We can and will keep his spirit alive through the memories we all hold so dear to our hearts. Fly high Gus.

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