Gerald W. Haslam

Gerald W. Haslam passed away on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

He was 84 years old... and, true to his style, he had already written his own obituary, which was discovered on his computer shortly after his death.

Gerald William Haslam, Ph.D. - (1937 - 20??)

Gerry Haslam always listed marriage to Jan, and their diverse family--5 children, 14 grandchildren, plus varied pals, as his major accomplishments. Born in 1937, he was raised in a multi-ethnic, blue-collar household in Oildale on the outskirts of Bakersfield.

He taught in Sonoma State University's English Department for 30 years before retiring in 1997, then teaching part-time 15 more years at the University of San Francisco's Fromm Institute. He originally became a professor, he said, to support his writing habit. The author of 21 books, editor of 8 others, all set in California or the larger West, but most in the Great Central Valley. He was, he said, "a writer who taught not a teacher who wrote."

In volumes such as Coming of Age in California, The Great Central Valley: California's Heartland, The Other California, That Constant Coyote, Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California, Straight White Male, Grace Period and In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa, Okies and Haslam's Valley, as well as literally hundreds of essays, op-ed's, and short stories, he established himself as a significant interpreter of his native state. Critic David Robertson labeled him "the quintessential California writer." Another reviewer, in the Long Beach Press Telegram, referred to him as simply "the writer's writer."

His publications garnered a wide range of honors: a Commonwealth Club Medal, a Bay Arena Book Reviewers Award, a Ralph J. Gleason Award, a Western States Book Award, a Benjamin Franklin Book Award, an Eric Hoffer Award, two Josephine Miles Awards, two Awards of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, among others. The underlying humanistic vision of his work was simple and direct: "No matter what our color or sex, we have more uniting than separating us. What is most important is that we are all members of the human family."

A youthful jock he somehow managed to be salutatorian of the Garces Memorial High School Class of 1955. He was awarded a B.A. ('63) and an M.A. ('65) from San Francisco State, and a Ph.D. from The Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities ('80), having also attended Bakersfield College, Sacramento State and Washington State. His education was augmented by two-years of active duty in the U. S. Army (1958-60).

Haslam took special pride in hometown honors such as the Track/Cross-Country Hall of Fame at Bakersfield College, the Garces Memorial High School Hall of Honor, and being named "One of a Hundred" at the Centennial of Bakersfield College (where he had once served as freshman, then sophomore, class president). San Francisco State also labeled him an "Alumni Hotshot" for his literary accomplishments.

Gerry's academic work won him a Fulbright Senior Fellowship in 1986, a fellowship from the California Arts council in 1989, a Friends of the University Library Faculty Achievement Award at SSU in 1992, and he was named a Laureate of the San Francisco Public Library in 1998. He won, as well, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western Literature Association in 1999, a Carey McWilliams Award from the California Studies Association in 2001, a Sequoia - Giant of the Valley Award from The Great Valley Center in 2003, and a Certificate of Commendation from the California Arts Council in 2004. He also served as President of the Western Literature Association, as well as board member. He served, too, on the boards of the Yosemite Association, the Multi-Cultural Institute, the California Studies Association, and the Petaluma Youth Soccer League.

Gerry credited his supportive family for his success, starting with his parents, Fred (aka, "Spec") and Loraine Haslam, an oil worker and a housewife. He was born in Bakersfield on March 18, 1937 and raised in Oildale (a classmate of singer Merle Haggard). Like many Kern County boys of his generation, he did farm labor in summers, then graduated to oil field work as he matured. At Garces HS in Bakersfield, he was also a valuable athlete on both the football and track teams, as well as a champion at extemporaneous oratory, drama and an award-winning scholastic journalist.

He married Janice Eillen Pettichord in Oildale on July 1, 1961 and they departed for college in the Bay Area, where they became a team. "Jan was not only my lover, she also became my editor and dearest pal." They took advantage of educational opportunities to accumulate five degrees between them: "We were living proof that, given a chance, upward mobility was then still a possibility," he later wrote.

Stricken with incurable prostate cancer in 1996, Haslam made himself available for clinical trials. "Somehow, every modality tried on me worked, at least to some extent." During those years, he and Jan became the grandparents of fourteen. "My survival seemed miraculous to us," he said. "Living to see all those grandkids has been a wonderful, unexpected gift."

He is survived by his wife of ?? years, Janice; their three sons Fred (Kathy), Carlos (Siobhan), and Garth; daughters Alexandra (Greg Russell) and Simone (Chris Sawyer), as well as eight grandsons -- Loki, Ronan, Briar, Ingram, and Max Haslam, William and Zachary Russell, Rupert Sawyer; plus six granddaughters - Charlotte, Agatha, Deirdre, Ophelia, and Sabrina Haslam, and Lita Russell. He adored all of them and called them the great gifts of his later life.

Haslam donated his body to a research center, but his life will be celebrated by a Mass of Christian Burial at St. James Church in Petaluma (DATE, TIME). Honorary Pallbearers will be Tom Alexander, Ken Byrum, Rev. Sam Tharp, Patricia Puskarich, Jim Thomas, Dr. Sharon Gadberry, Dr. John Renfree, Melinda Vandermeulen, and Clark Sturges. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Prostate Cancer Association.

Gerald's friend Jonah Raskin, sent us the following tribute

Gerald Haslam (1937- 2021)

By Jonah Raskin

No doubt, obituaries for my pal, Gerry Haslam, will appear in newspapers all over the state of California. They will be written by journalists who specialize in obituaries. Some of them might also be written by members of the Haslam tribe. “Howdy partner,” he would say to me in an accent that sounded western. Haslam was definitely of the West, or as one might say West of the West. For decades, we taught together at Sonoma State University, swam in the pool on campus, attended conferences together and gathered at Haslam’s home in Penngrove where he lived with his wife and near constant companion, Jan. The place was usually littered with toys. The Haslams have grandchildren galore. I hope they carry on some of Gerry’s legacy, but if they are anything like him they will find their own paths in life. A loner and a joiner, one of a kind and a team player, Haslam knew more about the Great Central Valley and beyond than anyone in the world. Indeed, he made it his business to know what was happening from Bakersfield, where he was born, to San Francisco, where he went to college, and to Sonoma County, which he grew to love. There wasn’t an area of California life he didn’t know about, whether it was dance palaces in Bakersfield, the music of Merle Haggard, or the future of farming in the Golden State. We both wrote fiction and non-fiction, and we both wrote about Jack London, Sonoma County’s most famous author. Haslam probably introduced more people, through his anthologies, to the literature of California than anyone else in his generation. He also preserved, in his short stories, ways of life that no longer exist in places like Oildale, where his dad worked in the oil fields. Haslam knew the language of men and women who toiled in factories and fields, and fields which were factories. His first book was The Language of the Oil Fields. An only child, he cobbled together ancestors who belonged to diverse ethnic groups. We agreed that California was, if nothing else, a land of hope. No one I have known was more hopeful than Haslam, now my dear departed pal.

And here are some of the articles that have been written in memory of Gerald Haslam.