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 ( http://wagele.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/book_how_to_survive_death.pdf ). 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: https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive/harry-gans
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.