Robin Williams had strong ties to North Lake Tahoe |

Robin Williams had strong ties to North Lake Tahoe

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Robin Williams was a world-wide celebrity who never seemed to act like one — at least when he was at Lake Tahoe. The 63-year-old comedian and actor whose suicide shocked the world Monday was a frequent visitor to North Tahoe over the past several years, and often brought his family to ski the slopes of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Several residents remember the Academy Award-winning actor, who lived in Marin County, as "low-key and very approachable." Others said they were touched by his genuine nature. "He was a very humble and gracious person," said Greg Felsch, who, as director of skiing services at Alpine Meadows in the '90s, interacted with the multi-talented performer frequently. "He kept a very low-key profile but was also a jokester. He would sometimes break into five-minute routines in the Alpine locker room and have everyone laughing uproariously." Felsch got an early glimpse of Williams' talent as a student at the College of Marin in the early '70s. "We both went to school there and he was in a Shakespearean play," Felsch said. "I thought to myself, 'hey this guy is good.' Next time I see him, he's on 'Mork & Mindy.'" Bob Bush, Mt. Rose ski school director, was an instructor at Alpine from 1990-97 and became Williams' personal liaison and friend during his frequent winter vacations. "I organized lessons for his kids and family friends," Bush said. "I would hand-pick instructors who were not only good, but would downplay that he was a celebrity. He got to know and trust that he and his family would be treated like normal people on a vacation. "It got to the point he didn't call the ski school, he would just call my house to let me know he was coming up." MORPH AND MULTIPLE Bush said inevitably Williams would be recognized, and he would sometimes spontaneously morph into one of his multiple characters, especially around kids. "He was extremely approachable, he never had that 'leave me alone attitude,'" Bush said. "He was just great with kids and could become these different characters one after another — from a foreign guy with an accent to an old lady — it was just amazing. He was hilarious." Bush said Williams surprised him and his wife, Linda, with a gift upon the birth of their first son, Zac. "A FedEx truck pulled up to our house and delivered a giant box," said Bush. "It was a kid's rocking chair. We were very touched. We still have it and will pass it down, along with his story. "My heart aches for his kids," he added. "I can only imagine what it would be like to go through this." Squaw Valley filmmaker Scott Gaffney met Williams at a celebrity event at the Resort at Squaw Creek in 2003. He too was awed by the superstar's unassuming nature. "I mentioned to him how impressed I was that he was so approachable. He shook his head as if there should never be any question about that and said, 'That's just the way you have to be.'" DINING AT WOLFDALE'S Aside from skiing, Williams also enjoyed dining out locally with family and friends. He was a regular customer at Wolfdale's in Tahoe City and became close with owner/chef Douglas Dale. "He started coming in about 20 years ago," said Dale. "He liked to dine, he liked his food, he liked his wine. I once served him a roasted, stuffed pheasant breast and that became his favorite. "Through the years he became a regular customer. We always guarded his privacy, and he appreciated that. But he was never stand-offish. He broke those barriers. He was a warm, compassionate person." Dale also got to witness Williams' irrepressible humor several times, but one evening is especially etched in his memory. "Robin came in with some members of Monty Python," he recalled. "He was obviously hosting them and showing them around Tahoe. As the evening progressed, it became 'competitive comedy' — they went back and forth endlessly. They were having a ball. That was not a quiet night." Like most, Dale was shocked and saddened by the tragic news of Williams' death. "The world lost a real super talent and a wonderful human being," he said. "He was an absolute sweetheart." Bill Jensen owns and operates Granite Chief Communications, parent company of Squaw Valley Times and Around Tahoe TV,

Letter: Power crisis benefits conglomerates

To the editor: Deregulation of the power industry has left California in an energy crisis. Our governor and state Legislature have been working diligently to solve this problem. President Bush rejected the call for price controls on electricity to hold down the soaring electricity costs in California. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the California power crisis is the energy conglomerate Enron Corp. of Houston, Texas. Enron has reaped giant revenue increases from California’s power shortages. Enron and its employees gave $113,800 to Bush’s presidential campaign; $250,000 to the Republican National Convention host committee; and $300,000 to the Presidential Inauguration Committee. Enron Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay raised more than $100,000 for Bush’s campaign and is a member of the president’s energy transition team. Is Bush’s rejection of California consumers coincidental or is he acting in favor of his cronies gouging the people of California? If you follow the money, I think the answer is abundantly clear. Donna Pownall Tahoe City

U.S. Mint in Carson City Cornerstone 150th re-dedication to be held

On Sept. 24, 1866, at 2 p.m., the Grand Lodge of Nevada, Free and Accepted Masons dedicated the laying of the cornerstone of the original U.S. Mint in Carson City. Exactly 150 years later to the day and time, the Grand Lodge of Nevada, Free and Accepted Masons will rededicate that cornerstone at what's now the Nevada State Museum at 600 N. Carson St. in Carson City. On Saturday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m., the public is invited to view the rededication ceremony of the laying of that cornerstone. This historic community event will begin with a Grand Procession from Carson Lodge No. 1, Free and Accepted Masons located across the street from the Nevada State Museum. The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m., with the rededication of the cornerstone by the Grand Lodge of Nevada and accompanied by speeches by State of Nevada dignitaries. An open house will follow at Carson Lodge No. 1, Free and Accepted Masons at 113 East Washington Street, Carson City. The public is invited to tour the Carson Lodge building, which is the original V & T Railroad Depot. Carson Lodge No. 1 was the first Freemason Lodge in Nevada and has operated continually since 1862 when it was chartered first in California, then in Nevada when it first became a state. The building is on the National Historic Register for Historic Buildings and features the original Depot clock, a Comstock silver Knights Templar Riding Uniform and a register of all guests to the Carson Lodge with the signature of Brother Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain). For more information, call Secretary Mike Williams at Carson Lodge No. 1, 530-882-3931.

Bush mobilizes against gun violence

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Promising to be a ”determined adversary” to gun violence, President Bush announced plans Monday to mobilize federal and local prosecutors who will focus exclusively on gun-related crimes. The president unveiled his proposal at a police promotion ceremony as part of National Police Week. He said the violent crime rate in the United States declined by 20 percent between 1989 and 1999 but still remains too high; 12,658 people were murdered in the United States in 1999, two-thirds of them by firearms. ”For every fatal shooting, there are roughly three nonfatal shootings. Folks, this is unacceptable in America,” Bush said. ”We’re going to do something about it.” With dozens of uniformed police officers assembled behind him on a riser, Bush said he will launch ”Project Safe Neighborhoods,” a two-year, $550 million effort that involves hiring 113 new assistant U.S. attorneys and 600 state and local prosecutors to work with police agencies and community groups on gun cases. ”It will send an unmistakable message: If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time,” Bush said. ”We’re going to reduce gun violence in America, and those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration.”

Senate backs Bush plan to terminate buyback program in setback for gun control forces

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted Thursday to back President Bush’s plan to kill the government’s gun buyback program, handing a victory to gun-rights forces. Senators voted 65-33 against a proposal by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to provide $15 million for the program, created less than two years ago by President Clinton. The Bush administration announced last month that it was ending the program, saying there was no proof that it was taking guns from criminals. Under the program, local police departments received up to $500,000 to buy guns in and around public housing projects for about $50 each. The weapons were then destroyed. ”Someone is alive today because of this program,” Schumer said. Opponents said the program was a failure that siphoned money that public housing authorities could better use to upgrade housing or to help the homeless or others. ”Do they take away the semiautomatic and the .38 used in commission of crimes? Absolutely not,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. The vote was not a clear referendum on the Senate’s sentiment on gun issues. To pay for his amendment, Schumer would have taken the money from funds provided to public housing authorities for anti-drug efforts, a program some lawmakers were reluctant to raid. Nonetheless, the buyback initiative has been opposed by the National Rifle Association and supported by gun-control advocates. The vote was the second victory for Bush and pro-gun forces in less than a month. In July, the House voted to back Attorney General John Ashcroft’s plan to shorten to one day the period the government keeps background-check records of firearms purchasers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administered the buyback program, credited it with removing 20,000 guns from the streets of 80 cities in its first year. But the agency also said the buybacks were removing just 1 percent to 2 percent of guns from those communities. The battle came as the Senate debated a $113.4 billion measure financing housing, environment, veterans and science programs for next year. The House version of the bill, approved last week, contained no money for the buyback program.

Optinions from aspiring soldiers divided on Iraq

Luis Gomez and Thomas Sanders believe the United States should follow the heed of international weapons inspectors and wait. Erika Aguilar said we should commence hurling bombs tomorrow. The three 17-year-old seniors in South Tahoe High School’s Naval Junior ROTC program expressed their opinions on the escalating war drumbeat led by President Bush. Gomez has his eyes set on enlisting in the Marine Corps early next year. He expects to be taking off for the Middle East a month before 2005 arrives. He has a handful of friends fighting overseas — two in Afghanistan, one in the Middle East and one at an undisclosed location. He wants a piece of the action. Despite his thirst for combat, Gomez thinks Bush is acting with an abundance of haste and not enough patience. “What Bush is doing is bad leadership because he wants to go at it and good leadership is to wait for the U.N. to ally with Bush,” Gomez said. “I think Bush is jumping the gun and not allowing the inspectors to finish their inspection.” Gomez said if the United States decides to invade Iraq without the support from the United Nations or various European allies, he will still support his country and fight. But if the decision comes to war with Iraq without international backing, Gomez said the situation could turn into another Vietnam or lead to a devastating World War III. Because of his asthma, Thomas Sanders, 17, can’t enlist in the armed forces but plans to work for the CIA. He holds the same position as Gomez. “As far as going to war with Iraq, I think Bush is being kind of stupid,” Sanders said. “We’re going in there without a cause. It’s what we think and not what we know.” Instead of sending troops abroad, Sanders believes the U.S. should focus on domestic issues such as the economy, unemployment and increasing defense mechanisms. He has no qualms with the federal government having increased access in surveillance measures — the opposite position of his parents. “I have nothing to hide. I’m not a terrorist,” he said. Aguilar is also planning to enlist in the Marines. She plans to join after graduation. Her area of interest is military police. With the suspected arsenal of chemical and biological weapons Iraq is stockpiling in violation of U.N. regulations, Aguilar believes the United States should strike early, as soon as tomorrow. “It’s better dying from a gunshot wound than having your lungs melted,” she said. Lt. Cmdr. Matt Williams teaches the elective class along with Senior Chief Petty Officer Darwin Sharpe, a retired Navy SEAL. The class focuses on leadership, community involvement and military protocol such as correct uniform appearance. Williams said he briefly touched upon Iraq during the week. He showed Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation last week to the United Nations which attempted to sway representatives that war with Iraq is necessary. Williams, who was an attorney in the Navy, filled the blackboard as Powell listed evidence so he could later answer questions from students. Williams was unsure of the validity of war with Iraq until Powell’s case swayed him. He said the burden is not on the United States or U.N. Security Council to show proof of Iraq’s noncompliance. The burden, he said, is on Iraq. “They have not met that burden,” Williams said. — E-mail William Ferchland at

Justice Stevens shows no signs he is ready to quit

WASHINGTON ” Only one Supreme Court justice was at Chicago’s Wrigley Field to see Babe Ruth supposedly point to the spot where he would hit a home run in the 1932 World Series. John Paul Stevens is old enough that he worked for a year at the court as a young man before three of his fellow justices even were born. Stevens doesn’t mind calling attention to his age (88), even though liberal interest groups prayed regularly over the past eight years for his continued good health. No one thought Stevens would retire from the Supreme Court while George W. Bush was president. But now that Bush’s successor has been elected, the only question being asked about the court’s oldest and longest-serving justice these days is not can he hang on, but when might he leave. After nearly 33 years on the court, there is no clear answer. Seated in a comfortable chair on a stage at the University of Florida recently, Stevens betrayed no sign that he is preparing to retire, remarking only that if the court had maintained the same heavy caseload today it had when he became a justice in 1975, “I would have resigned 10 years ago.” Stevens already has hired the law clerks who would begin work in October 2009, one sign ” though not conclusive ” that he plans to serve at least until June 2010. Justices are appointed for life and some in the past have famously pledged to serve out their terms. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the most recent justice to die in office, in 2005. Several former law clerks to Stevens have said that he is acutely conscious of not wanting to follow the examples of Rehnquist or Justice William Douglas, whom colleagues had essentially to force to resign in 1975 after a serious stroke. Stevens took Douglas’ seat. “He’s responsible enough and selfless enough not to hang on until he’s incapable of doing the job,” said University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Thai, a clerk for Stevens in 2000 and 2001. “I’ve heard he’s asked someone on the court to let him know, if he doesn’t realize it himself, if he ever gets to that point.” He seems far from it at the moment. Stevens is a sharp, though polite, questioner, and a prolific writer. He regularly commutes between the court and his home in south Florida. There, he works by computer and uses e-mail to stay in touch with his office in Washington. He plays tennis, golf and bridge. He appears also to take a certain pride in his advanced age; only Oliver Wendell Holmes remained on the court at 88. In a dissent in a case involving a videotaped high-speed car chase, Stevens noted that he alone among the justices learned to drive before the advent of the interstate highway system. “Had they learned to drive when most high-speed driving took place on two-lane roads rather than on superhighways ” when split-second judgments about the risk of passing a slowpoke in the face of oncoming traffic were routine ” they might well have reacted to the videotape more dispassionately,” he said. Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor and former Reagan administration official who backed Democrat Barack Obama this year, said that at a recent conference Stevens showed he “is as intellectually able as ever.” In listening to Stevens’ recount his presence at the 1932 World Series game known for Ruth’s “called shot,” Kmiec said, “It was very clear that the justice was very amused to amuse us with his age.” If Stevens decides to retire, he will probably consider a variety of personal, institutional and political factors, said Artemus Ward, a Northern Illinois University political science professor who has written a book on Supreme Court retirements. Justices typically like to depart one at a time, at the end of a term, and not during a presidential election year to keep the court running smoothly, Ward said. When their health is not an important reason, they tend to “time their departures to coincide with like-minded presidents,” he said. Obama, also a fellow Chicagoan, would seem to be a better match for Stevens than was Bush. As the leader of the court’s liberal wing, Stevens helped marshal majorities that questioned important aspects of the Bush administration’s preventive detention policy for suspected terrorists. Stevens also wrote a fierce dissent in Bush v. Gore, the case that helped seal the 2000 presidential election for Republican Bush. “I think one reason he didn’t retire was that he didn’t want the legacy of Bush v. Gore to extend to his replacement,” Thai said. ___ On the Net: Supreme Court:

Ellis, Morrow pace Warriors to first win

OAKLAND – Monta Ellis had 24 points and a season-high 12 assists, Anthony Morrow added 24 points, and Corey Maggette had 20 to lead Golden State to its first win of the season, 113-105 over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. Stephen Jackson added 20 points and rookie Stephen Curry had seven points and nine assists for the Warriors, who trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and were outrebounded 46-35. Rudy Gay had 29 points and eight rebounds for Memphis while Allen Iverson added 18 points to become the 16th player in NBA history to reach 24,000 for his career. The Grizzlies lost their third straight and were held under 115 points for the first time since their season-opener. Johnson and Crawford help Hawks beat Kings SACRAMENTO – Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford had 26 points each to help the Atlanta Hawks beat the Sacramento Kings 113-105 on Wednesday night. Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby each had 13 points for the Hawks (4-1). Kevin Martin, who was playing with bruised right wrist, had 29 points and 11 rebounds and Jason Thompson added 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings (1-3). Martin had 25 points going into the fourth quarter, but the Kings, who were ahead by four, allowed the Hawks to surge back to a 93-92 lead after Bibby made a 3-pointer with less than 10 minutes to play. Johnson’s jumper with 3:20 left extended the lead to seven. Martin finally scored his first basket of the fourth on Sacramento’s next possession, but it was too late. Crawford answered with a 3-pointer that put the game away.

Soldiering on as Bush moves into 2nd term

Like many Californians, Damon Houle, a 2000 graduate of South Tahoe High School, voted for Sen. John Kerry in last week’s presidential election. Unlike many Californians, Houle is stationed in the “red state” of Kentucky while serving his six-year hitch in the U.S. Army. Houle is one of several South Shore people with military ties and vested interest who paid close attention to the outcome of the presidential election. Like 48 percent of the voters, Houle desired change in the United States’ foreign policy and military strategy. The majority of voters, however, wanted President Bush to keep on course. Others, despite their preference, said neither candidate would evoke much change. In his flight platoon of 90 soldiers, Houle said about five, including himself, voted for Kerry. His comrades wanted President Bush re-elected for possible future tax breaks and hikes in their paychecks. “The military is widely Republican. I think that has to do with soldiers coming from the South and East,” Houle said from Kentucky, where he owns a home and two dogs. To his surprise, Houle said the contrast between the two candidates’ military service to their country during the Vietnam War did not seem to sway his platoon members. Houle stayed up late Nov. 2 to watch the returns. He said he felt “ill” after Kerry conceded and believes he will be sent back to Iraq where he served on Chinook helicopters. “I wouldn’t expect to pull out of there, by no means,” Houle said about his expectations on a Kerry win. “I think he could have came in there with new ideas.” A mother’s perspective Candace Robinson was looking for a new direction in United States foreign policy. Her son, Ansel, left for Southern California for Camp Pendleton last month. During his time at South Tahoe High School and despite the war in Iraq, Ansel wanted to be a Marine. Candace braced herself before Ansel went into the military a few months after he graduated last spring. Candace knew a Kerry win wouldn’t equate to the immediate reduction of troops in Iraq. She has a sinking suspicion her son’s chances of being sent to Iraq “at some point” are “rather high.” Richard Hughes, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in South Lake Tahoe, backed Bush so the president could continue to oversee the plan for Iraq. “I think George Bush is going to finish it so it doesn’t have to be done again,” Hughes said. “And I think Kerry would have caved into the liberals and tried to get out of there regardless of whether the job was done or not.” The Vietnam vet was pleased to see the United States take the offensive against Fallujah this week. The attack by Iraq soldiers with support from U.S. Marines provided military action Hughes was hoping his vote for the president would help bring. “Now they’re getting back to business,” Hughes said about the American military. “I think Fallujah was necessary to get those insurgents and we need to whip their ass and whip their ass until they quit.” In it for the duration Resting at his home along Kingsbury Grade after a bachelor party in Reno, Paul Bandish said it didn’t matter who became president. A cargo flight engineer with the Air National Guard in Reno, Bandish has spent two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq is too complicated for a quick fix, he said. “I don’t think either had much of a choice to handle the situation” Banish, a Harveys Resort and Casino card dealer when he’s not in the military, said. “I honestly don’t believe we’re going to get out anytime soon.” Despite his preference for Kerry, veteran Ron Schnur of Gardnerville holds no bad feelings for Bush. A day after Bush gave a victory speech for a second term, Schnur, a 71-year-old veteran of the Korean War, said he will back the 43rd president of the United States. “As an ex-serviceman and American I support him 100 percent but I hope he comes back the next four years with an open mind,” he said. – E-mail William Ferchland at

First lady visits Tahoe

GLENBROOK – Sitting on the side of Highway 50 with their two dogs, Mr. T and Wrinkles, a supporter of the president and an undecided voter waited for a glance of first lady Laura Bush. The wife of President Bush spent roughly 90 minutes in Glenbrook on Thursday, where liquor distributor Larry Ruvo was holding a $10,000 per plate fund-raiser for 80 to 90 people. The first lady arrived at the Lake Tahoe Airport in a marked airplane. She was whisked by motorcade into the exclusive gated community about 17 miles away. It was noted by a media presence of one reporter and one photographer. The bystanders, Dan and Maria Gates, were spending their vacation from Woodland by touring Tahoe in their RV. “We’re just sightseekers, gawkers,” Dan said. The couple and their dogs were waiting for Laura’s departure from Glenbrook. During the wait, Dan said he was a registered Independent who was leaning toward the incumbent. Maria, a registered Democrat, was undecided in her choice between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. She said she has liked the character of the president. “I can’t wait for Nov. 2,” Dan said. “It’s like the World Series coming on.” “It really is,” Maria said. The two parked their RV in a restricted area near the entrance of Glenbrook. A Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy standing guard moved them quickly. The two were unsure what they expected when the motorcade passed. “I don’t know. Maybe she’ll roll down the window and say hi,” Maria said. But before the escort appeared minutes after 2 p.m., another RV parked in the restricted zone. Mona Novak, from South Lake Tahoe, exited the camper that displayed a message, “Go home Bush. Log Texas, not Tahoe,” that was written in orange spray paint on both sides. “We don’t like Bush,” Novak said later with friends. “He’s a killer. A killer of humanity and our natural resources.” The same deputy appeared and ordered Novak’s RV to move. “You should take a picture of that,” Maria said to Dan. “That’s kind of zany.” Moments later, the motorcade appeared. Laura Bush was in a green Suburban in the back seat. She smiled and waved as the cars sped by. Maria was delighted. “I knew she would,” Maria said. “Well that was a quick excitement,” Dan said. – E-mail William Ferchland at