All posts by Ray Francis

Good-bye, Harry

If someone wanted to find Harry Gans in Berkeley, one only needed to try two places:  The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club or the French Hotel’s coffee shop on Shattuck Avenue – you’d find him at one or the other before long.  After not having seen Harry for several months, I recently decided to ask the staff of French Hotel if they had any news of him. They told me that Harry passed away around the 4th of July, with a memorial service at the French Hotel soon after.

Harry seemed to compartmentalize things:  never did the different streams of his life cross over.  Harry protected his privacy vigorously and most of us saw only what he allowed us to see of him.  He confessed some years ago to being in his late 80s (which meant he likely passed away in his 90s); he worked as a graphic artist; and as an illustrator he had several books to his credit, including a little PDF pamphlet that he co-wrote and illustrated that shows his dark sense of humor:  How to Survive Death ( ).  Harry also penned strongly opinionated letters to the editors of Berkeley papers.

Harry projected a gruff, misanthropic image; but — when you knew him — you found the shy, mischievous man who could be very sweet.  Harry showed his kindness with quickly, but skillfully, drawn cartoons given to people on a lark.  He saw humor in many things, and the gruff mask often gave way to a wry grin—if he liked you.  Harry also passionately disliked bullies, and felt no hesitation in barking at someone he felt crossed the line with poor sportsmanship or condescending behavior toward other people.

Harry came to bowling late in life, but he frequently bowled well above expectations.  Having started the game in his eighties, he did not have the gift of many years to hone it, but he made the most of his game and inspired younger bowlers to at least try as hard as Harry had to.  In bowling, Harry gave up the misanthropic act:  he knew that any bowler worthy of the name works for the good of the team and his club.  Harry never complained if he struggled to place his bowl where he wanted, and he never blamed others for his play.

In the clubhouse, Harry played in the monthly BLBC poker game, and everyone who knew Harry knew Harry’s game:  Texas Hold ‘em, high-low.  At the French Hotel coffee shop, the staff called him “Yo-yo,” because he liked to show off his yoyo tricks.

This link offers the full Harry Gans experience of a New Yorker talking about a New York institution:  Coney Island:

Harry shared what he could of his life with the BLBC, and we are glad to include him as one of us – as a bowler.

Berkeley Meets the Rossmoor Challenge

Last year, Frankie Napoli of Rossmoor Lawn Bowling Club, and also a dual member of Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club, reinstated the Rossmoor vs BLBC Challenge. We played two 14-end games. We were tied going into the afternoon. Three games were decided on the final bowl. Sadly for BLBC, all three bowls were delivered by Rossmoor teams giving them the trophy.

This year, BLBC once again entered four teams. Once again we would play two 14-end games. However, upon arrival at Rossmoor we learned they had eight teams. In the spirit of “good camaraderie and everybody bowls” we were happy to have two Rossmoor teams bowl for us.

Three all-BLBC teams won their morning games: Jim Corr, Cris Benton, and Bob Schwartz; Rob Hoey, Ray Francis and Jerry Knott and Frankie Napoli, Annie Brillhart and Erwin Vista. Team Ethan Bortman, Dave McMullen and Laile Giansetto were tied going into their last end. They lost the game by a fraction of an inch measurement.

So, the score was tied three to three.

BLBC continued to bowl well in the afternoon games. All four all-BLBC teams won handily giving us the victory!

Although none of the Rossmoor teams bowling for us won any of their games, we were very happy to have them on our side!

Congratulations to the bowlers who represented our club today!


Berkeley Bowlers with the Challenge Trophy. Left to Right: Rob Hoey, Ann Brillhart, Jim Corr, Ray Francis, Cris Benton, Laile Giansetto, Dave McMullen, Erwin Vista, and Ethan Bortman. Not pictured: Jerry Knott, Frankie Napoli and Bob Schwartz.

Berkeley Takes 2016 2×2 Fours at Oakland LBC

On a beautiful August summer Saturday, forty bowlers from around the Bay participated in this year’s tournament; which was hosted by Berkeley, but played in Oakland. We’re proud that ten bowlers from Berkeley played on the greens – and especially pleased that a Berkeley team took First Place! Congratulations to Sarah, John, Cathy, and Cris.

Winners: BLBC's Sarah Allday, John Hooper, Cathy Dinnean, and Cris Benton.
Winners: BLBC’s Sarah Allday, John Hooper, Cathy Dinnean, and Cris Benton.

2016 BLBC Triples Draw Tournament

Twelve bowlers waited to see who they would be bowling with (and against) in our club’s 2016 Triples Draw Tournament on July 16. It was a perfect round robin with the top two teams to play for the championship.

Des, Millard and Dave won all three of their games. (Excellent bowling you guys!) There was a very tough battle for second place between teams Erwin, Ray and Bob, Cathy, Phil and Ted, and Shawn, Ann and Luo. With a truly extraordinarily super bowl by Shawn at the last end of our third game, he moved his team into second place. Now his team had a tough assignment:  Beat the team (Des, Millard and Dave) that had just beat his team by two points. Well, Shawn’s team was definitely up to the challenge. They won with points to spare. Congratulations to Shawn, Ann and Luo!

2016's Triples Winners: Ann, Shawn, and Luo
2016’s Triples Winners: Ann, Shawn, and Luo


Winners of Women’s Fives

BLBC members Cathy Dinnean, Ann Brillhart  and Sarah Allday — along with Palo Alto bowlers Ginger Harris and Cheryl Anderson —

The day's winners: Cheryl Anderson, Ginger Harris, Cathy Dinnean, Ann Brillhart, Sarah Allday
The day’s winners: Cheryl Anderson, Ginger Harris, Cathy Dinnean, Ann Brillhart, Sarah Allday

took 1st place on July 10 in the 2016 PIMD Women’s Fives tournament at the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club.

Ginger took on the difficult (and lonely) task of bowling the singles game in the morning. Several rinks over, Cathy did an admirable job of skipping, Ann, Cheryl and Sarah in the fours game. (Sarah’s jack rolling and bowling to the jack were awesome!) After a break for lunch, Ginger and Cheryl won a close pairs contest, and Cathy, Sarah and Ann won the triples game with points to spare.

This team is the only team that day to win all its games.  Congratulations!

Berkeley bowlers perform strongly at regional championship, Jim Corr takes title

Berkeley bowlers put in a strong performance at the PIMD Men’s Singles Championship event and Jim Corr  came home with the 2016 title. (PIMD is the Pacific Inter-Mountain Division of BowlsUSA, comprising clubs in Northern California, Utah, and Hawaii).

The competition, held at the Sunnyvale Lawn Bowling Club the weekend of May 14-15, brought together 16 of the top players from all over the Bay Area. Eight contestants at the end of Day 1 went on to the Championship “A” and “B” Flights on Sunday, with the next four being placed in the “C” Flight and the lowest four in the “D” Flight. In his first game Sunday morning, Jim got off to a good start, beating Miguel Roliz of Rossmoor LBC, the only player who had defeated him on Saturday. This set up a semifinal match against Cris Benton, a fellow Berkeley bowler, that turned into a nail-biter. Jim took an early lead only to see Cris draw level and then surpass him to reach a 17-13 lead. With 18 points being the winning goal, Jim had to dig deep, but eventually managed to prevail by the narrowest of margins, eking out an 18-17 victory.

The final again matched two Berkeley bowlers against each other. Jim faced Frankie Napoli, a dual member of Berkeley and the Rossmoor Club. While not as close as the semifinal, the match nevertheless proved a tough one, Frankie coming within two points (13-11) of leveling the score, but Jim held on to take the game by 18-13 and the 2016 title.

Overall, with Rob Hoey winning the “B” Flight, Berkeley members ended up with four of the top five spots, a great showing. Congratulations to all.

Berkeley participants at 2016 PIMD Men’s Singles Championships. From left: Jim Corr, Des Simpson, Cris Benton, John Hooper, Rob Hoey, Frankie Napoli.
Berkeley participants at 2016 PIMD Men’s Singles Championships. From left: Jim Corr, Des Simpson, Cris Benton, John Hooper, Rob Hoey, Frankie Napoli.

When We Close for Maintenance…

We really mean it. On Friday, May 6, several hearty BLBC members hauled little cores of wet turf off the green to make it ready for receiving sand.

On Sunday morning (May 8) a mostly new crew came to shovel sand into the sander’s basin. It was physical labor that required over a dozen loads of sand to cover the green.  Each time the sander returned to the sand shed, the team filled the sander.  After a few loads, the team managed to refill the sander in under 2 minutes.  They felt like an Indianapolis 500 pit crew!

Next came spreading and sweeping the sand. As the pictures show, being a self-supporting lawn bowling club requires the work of fellow bowlers. The results will make the bowling better. Keeping the green running well is not magic, but hard work. Thanks to the teams who made this work happen!

The cores taken from the green were heavier than usual this time because of the recent rain.
The cores taken from the green were heavier than usual this time because of the recent rain.
The sand shed was around half full when the crew started!
The sand shed was around half full when the crew started!
Where the sand went.
Where the sand went.

Lucille McGuire: Bowler and Friend

Lucille McGuire passed away on October 18 in San Luis Obispo, where she lived near her daughter and grandchildren for the last several years. She was 92 years old. Lucille joined the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club in 1983 and served the club as a board member and secretary for many years. She also worked on the coaching and hospitality committees.

Lucille was born in Martinez, but was by all other measures a Berkeley native. She attended the University of California and raised a family on Ensenada Avenue in North Berkeley — just a short walk from her childhood home on the other side of Colusa Avenue. She liked to tell the story of her family piling into her father’s car and driving across the Bay Bridge the day it opened. Her father missed a turn, and they wound up driving to San Francisco on the lower deck, which was then just for passenger trains and large trucks (“He wasn’t a very good driver,” she would dryly remark.).

In some ways, Lucille was born into a Berkeley that began to disappear in the post-war era, but she cherished her hometown and knew Berkeley was special. She volunteered at the gift shop of Herrick Hospital, and she surprised several of us when she told us she had been involved in a protest at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant (San Luis Obispo County) in the 80s. Lucille didn’t blink from doing what she thought was right.

As a bowler, she played competitively for many years. Her “little birdie” zero heavyweights were a welcome sight on the greens of the Bay Area. She eagerly signed up for tournaments and saved many teams’ chances with her delicate touch. As a second, she provided thoughtful advice on how to turn an end to her team’s advantage. As much as she enjoyed playing bowls, she also relished the camaraderie of friends. Several times after playing in the heat of Rossmoor, Lucille happily joined her Berkeley bowling mates at PJ’s (a dive in El Sobrante) to knock back a martini on the way home. In the BLBC clubhouse, she played an intense game of dominoes and helped keep the club’s hospitality committee running. She became something a card sharp at our monthly poker games, frequently coming out ahead in the money. There were affectionate groans around the table whenever she called her game: “No Peekie.”

Lucille married a veteran of World War 2, William McGuire, and she proudly accompanied Bill to many reunions of his Army Air Corps comrades. Bill died in 2003 (after over 50 years of marriage), and Lucille moved to San Luis Obispo to be closer to family a few years later (she was a proud parent and even prouder grandmother).

Lucille held her friends and herself to very high standards; you never had to wonder where you stood with her. She knew that a club like the BLBC depends on the diversity of its members: she did not have to agree with everyone she met (and she didn’t), but anyone who came to bowl earned her good will and respect. She was fiercely loyal to her family, friends, town, club, and game. We offer our condolences to Lucille’s family and remember Lucille fondly for her contributions to the history and the legacy of the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club. Lucille’s and Bill’s ashes are buried in a plot at the San Francisco National Cemetery in the San Francisco Presidio, near her parents’ grave site and within easy view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

John Spiers remembered (1928 – 2015)

Long time Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club member John Spiers passed away on October 2, 2015. John was 87 years old and his health recently had begun to fail.

John joined the BLBC in 1993 and for many years local bowlers counted him among the club’s and the PIMD’s best bowlers. Not that he would have told you that: John’s wry and self-effacing wit put less-skilled bowlers at ease while giving himself the freedom to play brilliantly. As a skip, his teams relied on his ability pull the fat from the fire. As second, he provided solid, aggressive, and – when needed — hilarious advice to his skip (this writer can personally attest to this). Whatever role John played and whatever the outcome of his play, he always exhibited good sportsmanship and the simple enjoyment of the game of bowls. He quickly forgot the stings of losses and the pleasures of wins (though he would be the first to tell you that winning a game was pretty satisfying).

John came to us by way of the Richmond Lawn Bowling Club, but he hailed from Glasgow, Scotland. And there was no doubt that he was a true son of Glasgow. John was a private man not prone to boasting, but he did like to tell stories; he must have had hundreds of them. John lovingly told tales from his childhood about his neighborhood and its characters. He selectively shared stories from his time as a soldier in a Scottish regiment (he somehow managed to find something humorous out of being in Palestine when all sides seemed intent on shooting soldiers from the United Kingdom). He told about trips he’d taken and great games of bowls he’d won, lost, and witnessed. Most who knew John, though, probably remember him for his love of jokes. Conversations with John usually began with him saying, “Hey, I heard this joke…” John had a wide-ranging appetite for jokes, some better than others. But he was never cruel or unkind to anyone absent; and he had no patience for others who might want to gossip. Some might say John did not suffer fools gladly: he certainly did not suffer them silently.

Off the green, John was a generous man in providing rides for fellow bowlers to other greens, sharing drams of whisky (note the spelling) after an afternoon of draw games, and contributing to the craic of the group. He was a great bowler and an even greater friend of the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club. One of John’s last visits to the BLBC happened on September 19, when he came to watch the club’s intra-club triples games. Though not well, he was 100% John Spiers that day: with jokes, stories, and bowling all around. We extend our condolences to John’s family, and we already miss him terribly.

George Steedman: Thank You! (1912 – 2015)

The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club received a letter last week that long time member and former BLBC president George Steedman passed away at his home in Lodi at the remarkable age of 102. George’s obituary in the Lodi News-Sentinel does a very nice job of telling many exciting and worthwhile things George and Helen Steedman accomplished (it is worth a read).

George joined the BLBC in 1969. As the “winners’ board” on the clubhouse wall attests, the Steedmans played bowls very well: from the 1970s to the 1990s, the Steedman name appears frequently among the intra-club events victors. As bowlers, they both were competitive without being flashy and were gracious in victory and defeat. George may have been the best draw bowler this writer ever witnessed, and he freely imparted this advice: “If you have a choice between a heavy shot and draw, choose the draw shot.” And he took his own advice. Frequently advised by seconds to drive, George might deign to go heavy with a “yard on” shot; but never a drive. Usually, though, he stuck with drawing a shot to devastating effect.

Off the green, George served as president of the BLBC in 1983, and Helen could be counted on to provide welcoming hospitality inside the clubhouse. George served many years as chairman of the Memorial and Endowment Fund, and the Fund still benefits from his thoughtful and careful work in this area. In the 1990s, George became chairman of the BLBC’s lease committee, and he patiently and wisely guided the club through the tricky political landscape the club faced at that time. His efforts paid off, and the BLBC received a long-term lease that ensured the club’s continued presence in Berkeley.

After Helen passed away, George continued bowling well at the club before eventually moving to the Lodi area. George always behaved as a true gentleman and his demeanor served to bring out the best in those of us who knew him. Saying “no” to a request from George – a man who did so much for the club — was just about impossible. George’s natural curiosity about the world and its people meant that he was always ready for a good conversation about current events, the economy, the Cal sports teams’ prospects, and many other subjects. The BLBC offers its sympathies to George’s family, but we also remember with gratitude the many years of good bowling and excellent service the Steedmans generously gave to us. Thank you, George!